What are you voting on?- Ballot Issues
By Josh Curtis
AAC Governmental Affairs Director
The Arkansas Constitution allows the General Assembly to propose up to three constitutional amendments for the voters of Arkansas to decide. These resolutions are vetted in the Joint House and Senate State Agencies committee. The Senate filed 18 senate joint resolutions (SJR) and the House filed 25 house joint resolutions (HJR) during the 93rd General Assembly. Many of these resolutions mirrored the opposite chamber resolutions and were properly discussed. At the end of the day, this joint committee approved HJR1005, SJR10, and SJR14. Following the passage of both chambers these resolutions are now on the ballot for the 2022 general election and listed as issue 1, 2 and 3.
Issue 4 is a citizen-led effort that at press time was being challenged in the Arkansas Supreme Court.
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, Research and Extension, Public Policy Center has released its 2022 voter guide, “Arkansas Ballot Issues.” The guide (found at https://www.uaex.uada.edu/business-communities/voter-education/docs/2022-Arkansas-Ballot-Issue-Voter-Guide.pdf) is the most comprehensive resource in the state for a neutral analysis of ballot issues. Some information for this article comes from this guide.
Constitutional amendments currently require the approval of a majority of voters in a statewide election. Election Day is Nov. 8, 2022.
“A constitutional amendment to allow the General Assembly to convene in extraordinary session upon the issuance of a joint written proclamation of the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president pro tempore of the Senate or upon the submission of a written proclamation containing the signatures of at least 2/3 of the members of the House of Representatives and at least 2/3 of the members of the Senate to the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president pro tempore of the Senate requesting that the General Assembly convene in extraordinary session.”
SJR10, which is now called Issue 1, passed the Arkansas Senate 30-2 and the House of Representatives 82-9. This proposed amendment asks voters to amend Article 5, § 5 of the Arkansas constitution. This section defines when the General Assembly can meet. Section 5 currently allows the body to meet every odd numbered year for a regular session and even numbered years for a fiscal session. The fiscal session is relatively new. Amendment 86, which voters approved in 2008, allowed for the budgetary session beginning in 2010. The only other time the legislative branch can assemble to pass laws is outlined in Article 6, Section 19. This section allows the Governor to call the General Assembly into an extraordinary session to conduct specific business. Issue 1, if approved, would allow the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president pro tempore of the Senate to convene an extraordinary session. It also provides the ability for 2/3 of the members of each body to submit a written proclamation to convene an extraordinary session. Either way, there would have to be a written and clear reason for the special session. Supporters of this amendment want the legislative and executive branches to have equal power regarding when the General Assembly can go into session. Opponents of this amendment would like to keep the sole power of convening the legislature with the Governor.
“A Constitutional Amendment to Reform Certain Measures Presented to Voters, to be Known as the ‘Constitutional Amendment and Ballot Initiative Reform Amendment.”
HJR1005, which is now called Issue 2, passed the Arkansas Senate 23-6 and the House of Representatives 74-18. This proposed amendment asks voters to amend Article 5, § 1 and 18; Article 19, § 19 and 22; and Amendment 70, § 2 of the Arkansas Constitution. Issue 2, if approved, would change the percentage of votes need to approve a constitutional amendment. Approval would mean each initiative would require 60 percent of the vote, rather than 50 percent of the vote, to take effect. Issue 2 is supported by a Legislative Question Committee (LQC) called Defend AR Constitution.
In an email, State Rep. David Ray, chairman for Defend AR Constitution said, “Our state constitution is Arkansas’ charter document, and it should only be amended when there is genuine consensus among voters. Issue 2 provides a much-needed guardrail so that big money, out-of-state special interests quit trying to hijack our state constitution and ballot initiative system by pulling the wool over voters’ eyes and effectively buying new laws and constitutional amendments. Issue 2 will also give the voters more power by giving them a check on legislatively-referred amendments.”
The opposition formed a LQC called Protect AR Vote. Chair of Protect AR Vote Bonnie Miller said in an email, “Issue 2 is confusing, and that’s on purpose. Little Rock politicians and lobbyists are currently trying to push through a vague and risky measure that will have unpredictable and unintended consequences for our state. The truth is these politicians and lobbyists don’t want you to know that Issue 2 will give them more power while taking ours away. This measure will mean more power for special interests, more backroom deals, and less power for voters like us to decide on the issues that matter most.”
“A constitutional amendment to create the ‘Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment.’”
SJR14, which is now called Issue 3, passed the Arkansas Senate 27-4 and the House of Representatives 75-19. This proposed amendment references Article 2, § 24 of the Arkansas Constitution regarding religious liberty. Issue 3 attempts to clarify that the government shall not burden a person’s freedom of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability. It goes on to say government may burden a person’s freedom of religion only if the government demonstrates a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest. The authors of this amendment have stated it should be extremely rare for the government to burden a person’s freedom of religion. There has been one ballot question committee formed in support of this amendment — Family Council Action Committee. At this time there have not been any groups organized and on file in opposition.
“An amendment to authorize the possession, personal use, and consumption of cannabis by adults, to authorize the cultivation and sale of cannabis by licensed commercial facilities, and to provide for the regulation of those facilities.”
Issue 4 is a citizen-led effort to legalize cannabis use for adults over the age of 21. Responsible Growth Arkansas drafted this amendment and has filed as a ballot question committee. The required number of signatures has been verified by the Secretary of State, but the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners denied certifying the issue. Responsible Growth Arkansas has appealed this ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court, and they ruled to conditionally certify the ballot issue. Then on Sept. 12, the court issued a per curiam, which stated, “Pursuant to our authority under Amendment 80, § 2(E) of the Arkansas Constitution to issue and determine any and all writs necessary in aid of our jurisdiction, we issue a writ of mandamus to the Secretary of State to decide the sufficiency of the proposed initiative petition at issue in this action pursuant to Article 5, §1 of the Arkansas Constitution…”
Secretary of State John Thurston subsequently declared the proposed constitutional amendment insufficient for inclusion on the November ballot because the State Board of Election Commissioners did not certify the ballot title and popular name.
Issue 4 will be on every ballot in Arkansas. However, court proceedings will continue to determine whether the votes will be counted. Three ballot question committees have formed to oppose this amendment — Safe and Secure Communities, Family Council Action Committee, and Save Arkansas from Epidemics.