A coalition of citizens’ groups is getting loud about two Republican-sponsored measures that will make it much harder for grassroots campaigns to get citizen-led initiatives on the ballot.
Senate Bill 614 by Sen. Breanne Davis (R-Russellville) and Rep. Michelle Gray (R-Melbourne) would outlaw paying canvassers based on how many signatures they gather. The measure already passed out of the Senate on its way to the House.
And a proposed state constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 1005 by Rep. David Ray (R-Maumelle) and Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs), would move the goalposts substantially on what it takes to get a citizens’ ballot initiative passed. HJR 1005 would require a 60% favorable vote, rather than the simple majority currently required.
The League of Women Voters, Arkansas United, For AR People, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, Citizens First Congress, the NAACP, Arkansas Voters First and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel are joining forces to oppose these measures.
Arkansans want more power in the legislative process, not less, according to a release the groups put out together:
A recent poll commissioned by the League of Women Voters of Arkansas found that 72 percent of Arkansans want the power to propose statewide or local legislative measures and acts. We stand with Arkansas voters and OPPOSE the latest attempt by politicians in the Arkansas Legislature to weaken the ballot initiative process by making it more restrictive and vulnerable to dark money.
Citizens’ rights to petition the government for law changes came under attack by the legislature last year when lawmakers put Issue 3 on the ballot. Issue 3 would have made it nearly impossible for grassroots groups to collect the signatures they need to get their proposal on the ballot. It would have more than doubled the required number counties where signatures had to be collected, from 15 to 45 counties. Gathering signatures across the state is an expensive proposition, so only well-financed campaigns could succeed.
Arkansas voters apparently weren’t wild about an attack on their constitutional right to petition the government, and defeated Issue 3 handily last November.