Mar 6, 2023

Arkansas House bill would raise bar for citizen ballot initiatives

State Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) speaks against HB1419 in a Senate committee meeting last week. Screenshot: Courtesy of the Arkansas Legislature

A bill that would make it harder for Arkansans to get a constitutional amendment proposal on the ballot is scheduled to be considered by the state Senate on Monday.

State of play: HB1419 would require petition signatures to be gathered from 50 of the state's 75 counties, instead of the current 15, to qualify a measure for the ballot.

  • Supporters say it would give rural counties a voice in constitutional amendments and reduce the ability of out-of-state interests to influence Arkansas law.
  • Opponents describe it as an unconstitutional power play.

Reality check: Ordinary citizens and grassroots movements with little money would be forced to put shoe leather in 66% of the state's counties rather than 20%. Organizations with more resources — frequently out-of-state donors and special-interest groups — would have a leg up.

Zoom out: Past citizen-driven ballot initiatives include last year's failed recreational marijuana amendment and 2020's amendment to increase Arkansas' minimum wage to $11 in 2021, which voters approved.

Flashback: Voters rejected a similar measure in 2020 requiring signatures from only 45 counties.

What they're saying: "The message I'm receiving from the people of Arkansas is: 'Stop trying to mess with our ability to put issues on the ballot,'" Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) said in a committee meeting last week.

  • Misty Orpin of Common Ground Arkansas said in the meeting her research shows that, in the past 20 years, ballot issues have been brought by the Arkansas Legislature three times more often than citizen initiatives.
  • "If you want to stop changing the constitution, stop trying to change the constitution," she told the committee.

The bottom line: Find your senator and let them know your opinion on the bill before the chamber convenes at 1pm.


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