Today, Secretary of State Mark Martin certified petition signatures from a citizen’s group for term limits. The measure is slated for the November 2018 General Election ballot as Issue 3.
In a letter last March, I said that the term limits amendment being proposed for the ballot this November would put Arkansas’ term limits law back to the way things were prior to the passage of a law that extended legislative terms in 2014. I wrote that letter when my understanding of the current proposed term limits amendment was incomplete. Here is what I have learned about the proposed term limits amendment.
This year’s term limits amendment differs from the term limits law that was in place from 1992 to 2014 in the following ways.
Similar to the old term limits law, it allows people to serve 6 years in the Arkansas House or 8 years in the Arkansas Senate. It differs from the old law, because it limits a person’s total years of service in the legislature to no more than 10 years. This means that a person could serve 6 years in the House and 4 years in the Senate. They could serve 8 years in the Senate and 2 years in the House. They could serve any combination that totaled 10 years or less.
The amendment also adds a provision prohibiting the legislature from doing what they did in 2014, which was to propose legislation giving themselves more years in office. Under the new amendment, the legislature is prohibited from making any changes to the term limits amendment or referring any changes to a vote of the people. The people would still be able to circulate petitions and place any change or repeal of the amendment on the ballot.
In 2014, the Arkansas Legislature proposed a constitutional amendment extending the total number of years they could serve to 16 years, with the possibility of serving all of that time in one house. That same amendment contained ethics provisions designed to prohibit gifts from lobbyists, and it established processes for setting lawmakers' salaries.
The measure was widely criticized because many voters did not understand the nature of the amendment based on its popular name that appeared on the ballot. It was listed on the ballot as “The Arkansas Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency, and Financial Reform Amendment of 2014.” Many voters did not know that the measure increased the number of terms lawmakers could serve or that it would affect lawmakers' salaries. The 2014 measure passed with 53% of the vote. This year’s proposed term limits amendment does not affect lawmaker’s salaries or the provisions regarding gifts to lawmakers.
After proposed ballot measures are certified by the Secretary of State, they can be challenged in court for deficiencies in the ballot title or improper gathering of signatures. If enough deficiencies are found, the Arkansas Supreme Court could order the measure removed from the ballot or issue an order that votes on the measure not be counted. So far, no challenges have been filed in court.
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