What’s really on the ballot?
By RALPH HARDIN
Evening Times Editor
not the smartest guy I ’m in the world. In fact, the only way to guarantee I’m the smartest guy in the room is to be all alone. But I am smart enough to see through a very thinly- veiled attempt by some Arkansas lawmakers to take some of the power away from the people of this state.
You see, Arkansas is one of only a handful of states that actually does give its regular, everyday normal citizens the power to propose laws and put them up for a popular vote. This initiative process is how we the people of Arkansas can have a direct voice in our government rather than be solely at the mercy of our elected officials, bypassing the slow-moving legislature when it comes to issues that elected officials don’t like or don’t want to consider for whatever reason.
That’s where the initiative process comes in so handy. You see, if a group of people in the state feel strongly enough about an issue, they can draft up a petition to have it put directly on the ballot, circumventing the tedious and often ineffective legislative process altogether. You get enough registered Arkansas voters to sign off on your proposal and it goes on the ballot for all the citizens of the state to weigh in on. If it passes, it becomes law. If it fails, it doesn’t. But our elected officials don’t really care for the initiative process. I guess because it takes away their power. And because of that, oftentimes, they will do everything they can to make the process as difficult as possible. Many times, a grass-roots initiative has been rejected from being placed on the ballot for “ambiguous wording” or “unclear language” or whatever arbitrary reason the Secretary of State or Attorney General or Arkansas Supreme Court can come up with to deny the group and their referendum the opportunity to be heard and voted on by the people. That’s why it took so long for issues like casino gaming and medical marijuana to get on the ballot – lawmakers, for whatever reasons, did not want to put those issues up for the people who elected them to office to decide, so it took all manner of jumping through various hoops to even put those measures up for a vote.
Do you know why Arkansas’s minimum wage is going to be $11 an hour come January 1st? It is because of a citizen-led initiative. No legislator was behind that effort. No elected official sponsored a bill for that. In fact, even after it was passed by voters, one Republican state legislator tried to stop it from applying to certain workers, including teenagers and the mentally challenged.
Well, here we are in 2020 and there will be three ballot measures up for decision in November.
Issue 1 is for the continuation of a half-cent road tax. Voting yes on Issue 1 would amend the state constitution to make the tax, which funds various statewide road projects permanent. It’s scheduled to come off the books in 2023 otherwise. If you want nice smooth roads, I suppose you’ll want to support this one, although if it fails, I would have to imagine they’d get the money from somewhere else.
Issue 2 involves term limits. According to the language of the proposal, voting in favor would install stricter term limits for state legislators. The measure does allow for a four-year break between 12-year stints in the Legislature, so I guess you could get back in the game after sitting out a term or two. If you want term limits, this one actually proposes that without all the backdoor shady stuff they tried to push through during the last so-called term limit proposal back in 2014.
But Issue 3 is the one to keep an eye on here. It’s title is “A Constitutional Amendment To Amend The Process For The Submission, Challenge, And Approval Of Proposed Initiated Acts, Constitutional Amendments, And Referenda.” And that, my friend, does nothing to explain what it actually does, which is make it harder for grass-roots citizen-led initiatives to get on the ballot. It moves the deadlines up by several months, increases the number and kind of signatures required to get issues on the ballot, and – get this – requires the approval of 60 percent of the state legislature to get on the ballot. You read that right … they want to add a provision requiring the very people who refused to pass legislation in the first place to approve letting you vote on it.
They are not even pretending this is anything other that trying to strip the power away from the people.