Randy Zook, boss of the state’s biggest business lobby, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, said at yesterday’s panel on the new ethics/pay amendment that good lawyers believe the term limits provision restarts for all legislators the counting of years served toward term limits.
The sponsors of the amendment, Rep. Warwick Sabin and Sen. Jon Woods, think he’s wrong. I think he’s wrong. The supporters of term limits who opposed the amendment think he’s wrong, though they don’t like the amendment. There was never a discussion of this amendment that included an outlook that past service wouldn’t count if this amendment were to be adopted (surprise, it was!) and counting would begin anew.
But …. it’s true that under Arkansas law, there is no official record of legislative “intent” by which the Arkansas Supreme Court may interpret a statute except the plain language of the measure.
So let’s see the plain language:
SECTION 3. Section 2 of Amendment 73 of the Arkansas Constitution is amended to read as follows:
§ 2. Legislative Branch.
(a) The Arkansas House of Representatives shall consist of members to be chosen every second year by the qualified electors of the several counties.
No member of the Arkansas House of Representatives may serve more than three such two year terms.
(b) The Arkansas Senate shall consist of members to be chosen every four years by the qualified electors of the several districts.
No member of the Arkansas Senate may serve more than two such four year terms.
(c)(1) A member of the General Assembly shall serve no more than sixteen (16) years, whether consecutive or nonconsecutive.
(2) A member who completes his or her sixteenth year of service during a term of office for which he or she has been elected may serve until the completion of that term of office.
(3) The years of service in both the Senate and the House of Representatives shall be added together and included to determine the total number of years in office.
(4) A partial legislative term served as a result of a special election under Article 5, § 6, or a two-year term served as a result of apportionment of the Senate shall not be included in calculating the total number of years served by a member of the General Assembly.
Seems clear to me. It amended, but did not replace the old limit of six years in the House and eight in the Senate. It said no member of the General Assembly shall serve more than 16 years in total (except for a senator who had a lucky draw after redistricting, for two more years(). Could Nick Wilson come back and start a new run of 16 years from Pocahontas? I don’t see the wiggle room.
I do believe this: If a court DOES rule in such a fashion, it will set on fire the term limits people who are even now considering another amendment drive to roll back this change in the law. I also predict the Supreme Court in years ahead is likely to be much too finely attuned to the popular will to do such a thing.