I wasn’t there, but I’ve been related a bit of interesting inside baseball from the Joint State Agencies Committee at the Capitol today.
Subject: Act 1413, the bill by Sen. Ingram to make it harder to use paid canvassers to gather signatures for initiated acts and constitutional amendments. It became clear in the meeting today, as has long been known, that the legislation was written by Robert Shafer, lawyer for the Friday Law Firm, whose major client Oaklawn Park has a high interest in making it harder for people to put casino gambling amendments on the ballot.
You might recall that Secretary of State Mark Martin recently asked Attorney General Dustin McDaniel for an official opinion for a point that overlooked when the bill was passed. An innocuous little ol’ provision inserted in the bill by Shafer took from the attorney general the power to certify the popular name for ballot initiatives and gave it to the legislature. But the legislature inexplicably failed (screwup, apparently) to exercise its new authority on three amendments approved for the 2014 ballot. What, the secretary of state asked, is he to do? McDaniel said it was a ministerial function. It’s his opinion — though the law is silent on the explicit point — that the secretary of state could supply the popular names if the legislature failed to do so itself. McDaniel said he’d be happy to provide guidance,
Martha Adcock, one of Secretary of State Mark Martin’s lawyers, reportedly told the committee her office would do what the law requires. But the law does not REQUIRE the secretary of state to supply a popular name. Will Martin do so if not REQUIRED to do so? She reportedly couldn’t immediately answer.
So the committee directed McDaniel to send over proposed names to the secretary of state and see what Martin plans to do — accept McDaniel’ suggestions, come up with some of his own or decline to do what the law doesn’t clearly require him to do. If he doesn’t certify them to the ballot, they can’t be put before voters. And they must have a popular name under clear court precedent. The amendments can’t be fixed in the special session, by the way.They may only be recommended in regular sessions. The legislature could return the power of the popular name to McDaniel if an extraordinary majority approved, but adding non-fiscal items toa fiscal session is general something done only for extreme reasons.
There’s some politics here, too. The legislature has recommended three constitutional amendments. One is nominally an ethics-strengthening amendment on prohibition of freebies from lobbyists. But it also modestly extends term limits, something the Teabaggers don’t like much. Mark Martin, who identifies generally with the ‘baggers, has it in his power to kill that amendment by not certifying it for the ballot. Another bad amendment gives the legislature total control over administrative rules of executive agencies, something over which it now has only “review” authority, powerful though that is. Another bad amendment makes it even harder to correct insufficient petitions with additional signatures. The last one is, again, an Oaklawn Park sop.
I’ve asked Martin’s office if it has a firmed-up idea yet on how to proceed. Said spokesman Alex Reed: “We are still working through all if it.”
P: eyewitness from Beni Hardy at legislative Digest.