A Senate committee this morning endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment, HJR 1008, that’s aimed at making it harder to put initiated acts and amendments on the ballot.
The proposal ends a “cure” period for petition campaigns that initially fall short and also to require minimum signature requirements in 45 counties, among other changes.
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Jerry Cox of the Family Council continued to campaign against the proposal. He said the initiative process needs repair but he said the proposal didn’t fix the two biggest problems — “buying your way onto the ballot or writing yourself into the Constitution.” He said the proposed amendment was manipulated by attorneys who’ve made a specialty of fighting petitions campaign. He noted a poorly copied notary seal can cause invalidation of an entire page of signatures — one of several “gotcha” tricks to disqualify petitions.
Cox said there was nothing in the proposal to regulate paid petition canvassers and nothing to prevent writing private interests into the Constitution, as was done on the last gambling amendment.
“If we’re going to make the process harder, we should do it for everybody,” Cox said.
Sen. Will Bond (D-Little Rock) sided with Cox, particularly on the 45-county signature requirement. “It’s a litigation machine,” Bond said. “People with unlimited funds can still get on the ballot. And everybody else it’s a huge mountain to climb.”
Sen. Breanne Davis contended no initiatives reach the ballot without
Randy Zook, director of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, spoke for the amendment. It’s a big part of the business lobby agenda They hate the minimum wage amendments approved in two recent elections and fear other worker-protection actions. The chamber also said it favored earlier deadlines in the legislation. It is still chafing from having its tort reform amendment removed from the ballot by the Arkansas Supreme Court shortly before the election. “It should be difficult,” Zook said of petition gathering. He said his group would support the amendment’s passage.
Sen. Mathew Pitsch carried the proposal. “We have done things in the constitutional amendment process that aren’t good.”
The proposal passed on a voice vote, with at least Bond as an audible nay. Senate passage will complete action on sending the measure to the ballot.
The legislature may place three amendments on the ballot. It has already proposed an amendment to raise the sales tax to pay for highways and another to change the existing term limits rule in a way that actually extends the number of years a current legislator could serve.