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Legislature Refers Three Proposed Amendments to Voters

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LITTLE ROCK – During the recent regular session, the legislature referred three proposed constitutional amendments to Arkansas voters.

One would limit terms of legislators to 12 years. Another would permanently extend a highway program that is now scheduled to expire in 2023. The third would make it more difficult to change the constitution. The proposals will be on the general election ballot in November of 2020.

The current half-cent in state sales tax was approved by Arkansas voters in 2012 by a 58 to 42 percent margin. It took effect in 2013 and is scheduled to expire after 10 years. It raised the state sales tax from 6 to 6.5 percent.

If extended, the half cent would generate an estimated $293.7 million a year, of which cities and counties each would receive $44 million, and the state Transportation Department would get the remaining $205 million.

A second proposed amendment would limit terms of lawmakers to 12 years, although it grandfathers in current office holders. They could serve 16 years, which is the limit under current law.

The 12-year limit is consecutive, but not lifetime. That means a lawmaker would have to sit out after serving 12 years, but after a four-year break could run for office again.

The third proposed amendment that the legislature put before voters is whether or not to change the process of gathering signatures on petitions to place issues on the ballot.

The number of signatures required does not change. The threshold will still be eight percent of the turnout in the most recent gubernatorial election for an initiated act and 10 percent for a constitutional amendment.

Now, signatures must be gathered from at least 15 counties, and the change would require them to be gathered from at least 45 counties of the 75 counties in Arkansas.

If approved, the measure would repeal current provisions that allow an additional 30 days to collect more signatures. Now, if a group submits petitions on which 75 percent of the signatures are valid, it may get a 30-day extension to collect more.

The current deadline for submitting signatures is in early July. If changed by voters, the new deadline for filing would be January 15, and any legal challenges would have to be filed by April 15.

It also would raise the bar for the legislature, which may refer up to three proposed amendments in every regular session. Now, it takes a simple majority of 51 percent of the Senate and House of Representatives to refer a proposed constitutional amendment to voters. If voters approve the change, it would require a 60 percent majority.

Regardless of the outcome of next year’s election, there will be changes in the process of submitting signatures on petitions to change the Constitution through ballot issues.

That’s because of the passage earlier this year of Act 376, which changes the entity that will approve proposed ballot titles. It has been the state attorney general, but under Act 376 it will be done by the state Board of Election Commissioners.

Petitions with signatures must be presented to the Secretary of State at the same time that the proposed ballot title is presented to the Board of Election Commissioners.

Also, Act 376 increases the penalty for petition fraud, from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class D felony.

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