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Legislative digest - Feb. 12, 2014

As we enter the state’s third fiscal session, we are reminded of the power the voters have to amend our laws. After all, fiscal sessions began when back in 2008, 69 percent of voters said we should meet every year.

Our state constitution was written in 1874. But a government’s needs can change over time. Arkansans have responded by approving 91 amendments.

In Arkansas, there are two ways to put an amendment before the voters. First, an individual or group can have the language of a ballot measure approved by the attorney general and then collect 78,133 valid signatures.

The second way amendments are put forth is by the General Assembly. Article 19 of the Arkansas Constitution allows either house of the General Assembly to propose constitutional amendments. The amendment requires majority approval of both houses, but limits the legislature to just three issues it can put on the ballot.

The 89th General Assembly put forth three amendments last year. This week, we would like to explain what you will see on the November ballot.

Issue No. 1 addresses rules by our state agencies. Currently, the legislature reviews any changes state agencies make to their rules or regulations. This amendment would require legislature approval before the new rules are implemented.

Issue No. 2 addresses the number of signatures gathered by initiative campaigns. Currently, ballot issue groups are given an additional 30 days from the secretary of state’s deadline to gather more signatures, if an insufficient amount is found to be valid. The amendment you will see in November, would give only give the ballot groups additional time if at least 75 percent of the signatures turned in are valid.

And finally, Issue No. 3 addresses ethics and term limits for members. It would prohibit corporate campaign contributions and ban elected officials from accepting gifts from lobbyists which would not be offered to members of the public.

It would also amend term limits for state senators and representatives. Currently, House members can serve up to three consecutive two-year terms. Senators can serve two four-year terms. However, after redistricting Senators draw for a two-year or four-year term. If a senator draws a two-year term, he or she can run a third time to serve a total of 10 years.

Issue No. 3 would do away with the limits in each individual chamber and instead allow members to serve a collective 16 years in the General Assembly regardless of which chamber.

We encourage you to study the issues closely before November. Although members have the power to put the issues on the ballot, it is you the voter who has the ultimate control when it comes to changing our constitution.

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