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BRENDA BLAGG: Term limits, again

Legislature tries to restructure allowable time in office by Brenda Blagg | October 14, 2020 at 1:00 a.m.

Term limits for Arkansas legislators will once again be on statewide ballots for the Nov. 3 general election.

That has happened repeatedly in the last three decades. Arkansas voters have actually approved several of the past proposals, only to see a citizen initiative or another legislatively referred alternative proposed to change the changes.

Amending the state's Constitution is supposed to be somewhat difficult, requiring voter-approved constitutional amendments.

That's particularly challenging for a citizen initiative, which requires circulation of a petition and jumping through administrative and legal hoops to get that petition certified to the ballot.

Arkansas legislators, on the other hand, can through their votes refer three different issues to voters every two years.

This year, term limits was again among their issues of choice and appears on the general election ballot as Issue 2.

It would amend the term limits amendment that is in effect now. Approved by voters in 2014, it, too, was referred by the Legislature.

Why would the Legislature now try to change term limits it had secured so recently?

A citizen initiative circulated in 2018 would have severely restricted those term limits but was stricken from the ballot by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Anticipating another initiative, lawmakers opted in 2019 to try to make changes themselves by sending Issue 2 to voters this year.

What would it actually change?

If approved, Issue 2 would lessen the number of consecutive years a future lawmaker could serve but remove life-time term limits put in effect in 2014.

Future legislators could serve up to 12 years consecutively, sit out four years, then seek office again.

Current legislators and those elected this November could serve under the current term limit of up to 16 consecutive or non-consecutive years. But they, too, could then sit out four years and run again, retriggering the new 12-year consecutive limit, regardless of which chamber the lawmaker serves in.

None of that detail -- nor more that is contained in the measure's three-page text -- actually appears on the ballot that voters will see.

The popular name of Issue 2 is "A constitutional amendment to amend the term limits applicable to members of the General Assembly, to be known as the 'Arkansas Term Limits Amendment'."

The official ballot title simply repeats most of those words. That's it. Voters are on their own to figure out what's in the full amendment or what it would change.

That imprecise ballot language is reason enough for voters to reject Issue 2.

The language is also the subject of a new lawsuit filed Friday in Pulaski County and of continuing litigation in another case that has been appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Both challenge Issue 2's ballot title as misleading to voters.

The Nov. 3 ballots have already been printed and Issue 2 is on them, notwithstanding what ultimately happens in court.

Voters should still prepare to vote on the issue. Barring court action to the contrary, those votes will count.

Brenda Blagg is a freelance columnist and longtime journalist in Northwest Arkansas. Email her at [email protected]


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