Is it ‘power of the people’ or not?
Once again, the powers that be in Little Rock are taking it upon themselves to decide that we simply can’t be trusted to decide how we want to live our lives here in Arkansas.
If you’re not in the know, Arkansas is one of a handful of states that allows its citizens to propose new laws through the ballot initiative process. Any Arkansas resident who can muster enough support for his or her proposal can have it placed on the ballot for voters to weigh in on and if passed, have their idea become law of the land.
But hold on, voters! We now hear about a proposal moving through this session of the Arkansas Legislature designed to make it harder for the citizens to amend the Arkansas Constitution.
You see, after seeing the approval such citizen-led legislation including medical marijuana, the expansion of casino gaming and an $11-an-hour minimum wage, lawmakers have seen enough and decided we simply can’t be trusted with this responsibility.
So, this new resolution would refer a proposed constitutional amendment to the November 2020 ballot that would make several changes to the ballot-initiative process by:
• Requiring signatures of at least one-half of the designated percentage of the electors in 45 counties instead of the current 15 counties.
• Requiring a three-fifths vote of both chambers of the General Assembly to refer a proposed constitutional amendment to voters.
• Eliminating the 30-day signature cure period, in which ballot-measure sponsors may collect additional signatures if they submitted at least 75 percent of the required number of registered-voter signatures on time.
Seems like Sen. Matthew Pitsch, a Republican from Fort Smith, believes all the amendment changes over the last several years is altering the intend our framers hand in mind when they drafted the state’s constitution and he simply wants the process made more difficult.
The amusing part of all this is that lawmakers passed Pitsch’s resolution in committee after the full House voted 68-17 in favor of a resolution allowing the General Assembly to refer a third and final constitutional amendment to voters in 2020. Appears a little hypocritical don’t you think? The old expression “do as I say not as I do” certainly comes to mind here, but certainly not surprising when we consider politics today.
These mostly Republican politicians want us, the voters, to bite the bullet and make the half-cent sales tax for highways permanent; pass this so-called limit lawmakers to serve 12 consecutive years and then require them to sit out four years before becoming eligible to serve in the Legislature again.
Oh, but Sen. Pitsch tells his fellow politicians that they are up against well-financed, out-of-state groups in recent years have taken full advantage of the ballot initiative process just as they have done and are continuing to do. While we can’t totally disagree with some of Pitsch’s observations what this will do is out the amendment process totally out of reach for any grassroots, populist initiative process and only puts it totally and completely in the hands of those who can afford this process.
It is only fair to point out that the constitution is more often altered by referrals from lawmakers than citizeninitatited efforts based on passed amendments so maybe it needs to be pointed out that what is good for the goose should also be good for the gander, as the old saying goes.