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3 sue over term-limit amendment

Title on ballot unclear that it will lengthen terms, suit says

By Claudia Lauer

This article was published August 2, 2014 at 3:31 a.m.

Three Arkansas voters filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court on Friday asking a judge to strip from the November ballot a constitutional amendment seeking ethics reforms and a change in state House of Representatives term limits.

The lawsuit also asks that the secretary of state not be allowed to count or certify any votes cast for or against the amendment, known as Issue No. 3. The lawsuit, filed by Yvonne Rich of Mountain Home, Frederick Scott of Maumelle and Kathleen Wikstrom of Benton, argues that the proposed amendment "constituted fraud."

The proposed amendment's popular name is: "An amendment regulating contributions to candidates for state or local office, barring gifts from lobbyists to certain state officials, and setting term limits for members of the General Assembly."

In the lawsuit filed against Secretary of State Mark Martin, the three argue that the title of the amendment fails to inform voters that voting "yes" would lengthen term limits for state Senate and House members.

"The proposed amendment would double term limits for members of the Arkansas Senate, and would nearly triple term limits for members of the Arkansas House of Representatives," their attorney wrote in the lawsuit. "Neither the popular name nor the ballot title for Issue No. 3 informs the voter-citizens of the State of Arkansas that approval of the amendment would lengthen term limits."

Laura Labay, a spokesman for Martin's office, said office attorneys were reviewing the lawsuit Friday and had not yet filed a response.

The ballot measure would change the state's ethics rules to provide certain limits on contributions and would allow for a term limit of 16 years to be served in either chamber of the Legislature. Current rules allow for three two-year terms in the House and two four-year terms in the Senate. Beyond their two four-year terms, some senators also are allowed to serve a two-year term due to reapportionment of Senate districts every decade.

The title of the measure states it would "set" term limits, and language later in the measure states it would "establish" term limits. The lawsuit alleges those terms are misleading to voters who might think no limits are currently set or established.

The lawsuit also alleges that mingling the two issues of ethics reform and term limits is "manifest fraud." The plaintiffs also argue the measure violates a state law allowing only three amendments proposed by the Legislature to appear on the ballot because the proposal in question is actually two amendments.

"My main concern is that it seems to be manifest fraud on the voters because of the way it's worded and the way that term limits is combined with the ethics issues, burying it there," Wikstrom said in a telephone interview Friday.

"The whole idea of combining issues inside of one ballot measure, that seems inappropriate. I wouldn't think the General Assembly would allow it, and I wouldn't think the court would either."

Wikstrom said she hopes a judge will hear the case quickly because the Nov. 4 election is a little more than three months away. The three plaintiffs did not include a request for the court to expedite the complaint.

The lawsuit did not challenge the other two proposed constitutional amendments approved by the Legislature -- an amendment that would allow the Legislature to pass a law requiring that a legislative committee be allowed to approve administrative rule changes for state agencies before they go into effect and an amendment that would prevent groups from getting a 30-day extension to collect additional signatures for ballot measures if too many of the original signatures are deemed invalid by the secretary of state.

Metro on 08/02/2014

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