This year’s General Election ballot includes four proposed amendments to the Arkansas Constitution and one amendment to the Arkansas Code. A court challenge has been filed to the latter, which would increase the minimum wage. The state Supreme Court had not ruled by press time. That means the issue will be on the ballot but it’s possible the court will disqualify it.
Three of the ballot issues were referred by the General Assembly, which is limited to three. The others were referred by petitions from voters. Below, the ballot issues and their popular titles.
BALLOT ISSUE NO. 1:
Empowering the General Assembly to provide for legislative committee review and approval of state agencies’ administrative rules.
This legislatively referred ballot issue is a power grab by the General Assembly to give lawmakers say over agency rules and regulations, a function now performed, as it should be, by the executive branch. The legislature has the power to appropriate funds to agencies and requires agencies to report its rules to the General Assembly’s Legislative Council. So, say the Game and Fish Commission decides a bag limit of six deer, but there’s a legislator who wants that limit set at nine. Sorry, G&FC! Then there are Medicaid coverage policies … . A yes vote on Ballot Issue No. 1 would force lawmakers, given how many administrative rules there are to be examined, to keep the legislature in session forever. A no vote is appropriate. If approved, the amendment would go into effect 30 days after the election.
(The legislature — those in Republican Sen. Jason Rapert’s camp, anyway — would also like final say over the judicial branch as well, thus creating a one-branch government, but that’s for the next election.)
BALLOT ISSUE NO. 2:
An amendment allowing more time to gather signatures on a state-wide initiative or referendum petition only if the petition as originally filed contained at least 75 percent of the valid signatures required.
This amendment, sponsored by Sen. Bill Sample (R-Hot Springs), would make it harder for people to propose changes to state law. Under current Arkansas law, the secretary of state allows groups whose petitions meet the required number of signatures (78,133 for constitutional amendments, 62,507 for initiated measures, from at least 15 counties) but whose valid signatures fall short 30 days to collect more signatures. This amendment would require the secretary of state to verify that 75 percent of the submitted signatures are valid before granting groups more time to get names.
Had this amendment been in place in this year’s and previous elections, for example, the 2012 medical marijuana issue and this year’s minimum wage and alcohol issues would not have qualified for the ballot. Supporters say the amendment will keep groups from buying time with nonvalid signatures. Opposition to the amendment has made unlikely bedfellows of the Arkansas ACLU, the Family Council, the AFL-CIO and Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger (who was quoted as saying, “This is one area where people can touch government and can affect government and the only reason for this is to make it harder for them to do that.”).
BALLOT ISSUE NO. 3:
The Arkansas elected officials ethics, transparency, and financial report amendment of 2014.
This amendment, referred by the legislature, has pro-term limits folks up in arms — or at least up to rolling around a big wooden Trojan Horse in protest — because it would extend term limits (now six years in the House and eight in the Senate) to 16 years, regardless of chamber. Its main proposals would prohibit lobbyist gifts to elected officials (already codified, but not in the state Constitution), create an independent commission that would determine legislative salaries and per diem reimbursement (so lawmakers don’t have to take the heat for voting to increase their pay), and would require a two-year wait for lawmakers whose terms have expired to register as lobbyists. If approved, the amendment would go into effect 30 days after the election.
BALLOT ISSUE NO. 4
The Arkansas alcoholic beverage amendment
A vote for Ballot Issue No. 4, proposed by petition of the people, would mean you could buy beer, wine or liquor in Jasper or Searcy or Hamburg — any place at all, in fact, in Arkansas (provided you could find a liquor store) — by ending local “wet” or “dry” elections. Opponents, including county line liquor stores, tried to knock the issue off the ballot, arguing that the state allowed the petitions to be filed past deadline, but the Supreme Court ruled unanimously Oct. 16 against them. Arkansas is a hooch checkerboard: There are 37 “dry” counties in Arkansas and 38 “wet,” but some towns in wet counties are dry and some businesses in dry counties are wet, having gotten “private club” licenses to sell drinks. Supporters, including convenience and grocery stores, say statewide sales of alcohol would be good for the economy and could reduce the risk of drunk-driving accidents by folks driving a distance to pick up legal booze. The state Alcohol and Beverage Control Board will continue to regulate the sale of alcohol.
There are county alcohol sales votes in Columbia and Saline counties on Election Day (though the Saline County measure may be removed by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which had not ruled by press time), but if Ballot Issue No. 4 is approved, it would supersede the outcomes of those votes. The amendment would go into effect July 1, 2015.
BALLOT ISSUE NO. 5
An act to increase the Arkansas Minimum Wage
A vote for Ballot Issue No. 5 (by petition of the people) would raise the state minimum wage of $6.25 to $7.50 an hour on Jan. 1, 2015; to $8 an hour on Jan. 1, 2016, and to $8.50 on Jan. 1, 2017. That means a 25-cent bump up from the federal rate of $7.25 in January, which would put Arkansas in league with the 23 states and the District of Columbia whose minimum wage is higher than the federal government’s. Seven states, including Arkansas, currently either have rates below the federal minimum or no laws, meaning the federal rate applies. A bill in Congress that would have raised the federal rate to $10.10 over 30 months failed this year.
The measure is supported by Give Arkansas a Raise Now coalition, the Arkansas Interfaith Alliance, the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, the Hunger Relief Alliance, most candidates for higher office and 79 percent of Arkansans, according to a Talk Business-Hendrix College poll. It was opposed by multimillionaire Club for Growth head Jackson T. Stephens Jr. (who is unfamiliar with trying to live on $7.25 an hour). He believes paying living wages will bring businesses to their knees or result in big layoffs. That has been the argument against since the idea of a minimum wage, at one time meant to be a living wage, was first proposed.
Stephens unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court to take the minimum wage off the ballot, saying petitions were submitted past deadline (Monday, July 7, since the official deadline fell on the Fourth of July holiday this year). He also challenged the sufficiency of the signatures. The court denied Stephens’ challenge on Monday.