The third proposed constitutional amendment referred to the Nov. 3 general election ballot would make Arkansas' already-challenging citizen initiative process more difficult.
Referred to voters by the Arkansas Legislature, Issue 3 would significantly change the process for the submission, challenge and approval of proposed initiated acts, constitutional amendments and referenda.
Arkansas is one of only 15 states in the country that allow citizens to petition to put a proposed state law, constitutional amendment or referendum on the ballot.
The process has been in place since 1910 but has been altered over the years. The latest change came in 2014, when voters approved a legislatively referred amendment requiring petitioners to have submitted at least 75 percent of the required valid signatures before qualifying for extra time to gather the necessary signatures.
The changes proposed in Issue 3 this year affect everything from the timing of initiative petitions and the gathering of signatures to deadlines for filing legal challenges to such proposals.
The number of signatures required would not change, but a lot of other provisions would.
The date when initiative petitions are due would move up from four months ahead of the general election to Jan. 15 of the election year.
Petitioners would have to collect a minimum number of voter signatures for a statewide ballot issue or referendum from at least 45 of the state's 75 counties, rather than the 15 counties now required.
Any lawsuit challenging statewide ballot issues proposed by the public would have to be filed by April 15.
The proposed amendment would also eliminate the "cure period" that has been allowed for statewide ballot issue groups to collect and submit additional signatures if the first round of signatures submitted to the secretary of state doesn't meet the required threshold.
Similarly, there would be no cure period for local ballot measures in a city or county if the first round falls short of the required number.
Notably, the proposed amendment would also alter the number of votes needed for state legislators to refer a constitutional amendment to voters. Currently, a simple majority in each house of the Legislature can do so. The proposed change would increase the number to three-fifths of each chamber.
It would also delete the current requirement for publication of any legislatively proposed amendments in a newspaper in each county. Instead, they would be published "in a manner provided by law" that is yet to be determined.
Another provision in Issue 3 would increase the number of legislative votes needed to refer a constitutional amendment altering the salaries of state elected officials. The new requirement, if approved, would be for three-fifths of each house of the Legislature, rather than the simple majority now needed.
Those details and more spelled out in the proposal passed by the Legislature are not in the popular name or the official ballot title that appears on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Voters are being asked to vote for or against a constitutional amendment "to amend the process for the submission, challenge and approval of proposed initiated acts, constitutional amendments and referenda."
That language is hardly representative of the proposed amendment, but the Arkansas Supreme Court last week let Issue 3 remain on the Nov. 3 ballot. Its ballot title had been challenged as misleading in a Pulaski County Circuit Court case earlier this month, but the lower court also allowed it to stand. That ruling was upheld on appeal.
Proponents of Issue 3 generally argue that it would protect the state Constitution while opponents contend Issue 3 takes power away from the people by restricting their access to the ballot.
Issue 3 has drawn support from the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Farm Bureau and the Arkansas Republican Party.
Opposition is coming from the Protect AR Rights committee, which includes representatives from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, Arkansas Education Association, Arkansas Public Policy Panel, Arkansas Strong, Arkansas United, Citizens First Congress, NAACP Arkansas State Conference and the League of Women Voters of Arkansas.
Brenda Blagg is a freelance columnist and longtime journalist in Northwest Arkansas. Email her at [email protected]