State Capitol Week in Review From Senator Terry Rice

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LITTLE
ROCK – During the recent regular session, the legislature referred three
proposed constitutional amendments to Arkansas voters.

One
would limit terms of legislators to 12 years. Another would permanently extend
a highway program that is now scheduled to expire in 2023. The third would make
it more difficult to change the constitution. The proposals will be on the
general election ballot in November of 2020.

The
current half-cent in state sales tax was approved by Arkansas voters in 2012 by
a 58 to 42 percent margin. It took effect in 2013 and is scheduled to expire
after 10 years. It raised the state sales tax from 6 to 6.5 percent.

If
extended, the half cent would generate an estimated $293.7 million a year, of
which cities and counties each would receive $44 million, and the state
Transportation Department would get the remaining $205 million.

A
second proposed amendment would limit terms of lawmakers to 12 years, although
it grandfathers in current office holders. They could serve 16 years, which is
the limit under current law.

The
12-year limit is consecutive, but not lifetime. That means a lawmaker would
have to sit out after serving 12 years, but after a four-year break could run
for office again.

The
third proposed amendment that the legislature put before voters is whether or
not to change the process of gathering signatures on petitions to place issues
on the ballot.

The
number of signatures required does not change. The threshold will still be
eight percent of the turnout in the most recent gubernatorial election for an
initiated act and 10 percent for a constitutional amendment.

Now,
signatures must be gathered from at least 15 counties, and the change would
require them to be gathered from at least 45 counties of the 75 counties in
Arkansas.

If
approved, the measure would repeal current provisions that allow an additional
30 days to collect more signatures. Now, if a group submits petitions on which
75 percent of the signatures are valid, it may get a 30-day extension to
collect more.

The
current deadline for submitting signatures is in early July. If changed by
voters, the new deadline for filing would be January 15, and any legal
challenges would have to be filed by April 15.

It
also would raise the bar for the legislature, which may refer up to three
proposed amendments in every regular session. Now, it takes a simple majority
of 51 percent of the Senate and House of Representatives to refer a proposed
constitutional amendment to voters. If voters approve the change, it would
require a 60 percent majority.

Regardless
of the outcome of next year’s election, there will be changes in the process of
submitting signatures on petitions to change the Constitution through ballot
issues.

That’s
because of the passage earlier this year of Act 376, which changes the entity
that will approve proposed ballot titles. It has been the state attorney
general, but under Act 376 it will be done by the state Board of Election
Commissioners.

Petitions
with signatures must be presented to the Secretary of State at the same time
that the proposed ballot title is presented to the Board of Election
Commissioners.

Also,
Act 376 increases the penalty for petition fraud, from a Class A misdemeanor to
a Class D felony.

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Tammy Teague

Tammy Teague

Mansfield native, with roots in Scott County. Daughter, sister, wife and Christian. Education: 1995 MHS graduate; 1999 Arkansas Tech University Graduate - BA in Journalism. Career: Managing Editor - The Citizen; Copy Writer - Southwest Times Record; 20+ years experience in the news.

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