The sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit state lawmakers to serving 10 years said Friday that they have collected more than 135,000 signatures of registered voters in their attempt to qualify their measure for the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Thomas Steele of Little Rock, chairman of the Arkansas Term Limits committee, signed an affidavit stating that the committee turned in 135,590 signatures on parts of 19,714 petitions to the secretary of state's office.
To qualify for the ballot, sponsors of constitutional amendments are required to collect 84,859 signatures of registered voters. Friday was the deadline for sponsors of ballot measures to turn in their petitions.
Steele stopped short of predicting that the secretary of state's office will verify that his group collected enough signatures without needing another 30 days to gather more.
"We think we have gotten enough [signatures] to get us across the finish line and, we feel if we get there, that Arkansas voters are going to probably repeat what they have done in the past. They want term limits," Steele told reporters after hugging a few supporters and holding back tears of joy.
Backers have been gathering signatures since the last election year. On Oct. 28, 2016, Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge cleared the way for the committee to begin circulating petitions.
The proposed amendment would limit lawmakers to serving three two-year terms as a state representative, two four-year terms as a senator, or any term which if served would exceed a total of 10 years in the General Assembly.
Lawmakers' service on or after Jan. 1, 1993, would be included in calculating allowable terms and service under the proposed amendment, which wouldn't cut short or invalidate a term for which a representative or senator was elected prior to its effective date on Jan. 1, 2019. The two-year Senate terms served by some senators once a decade after Census-driven redistricting would be included in the 10-year limit.
Lawmakers can now serve up to 16 years in the House, Senate or both chambers under Constitutional Amendment 94, which voters approved in November 2014. The amendment doesn't count the two-year terms that senators serve because of redistricting, so a senator who continues to win elections potentially could serve more than 16 years.
Before Amendment 94, state lawmakers were limited to serving six years in the House and eight years in the Senate. Some senators were able to serve more if they were elected to two four-year terms plus a redistricting-related two-year term.
Steele said he doesn't know whether there will be a legal challenge to his proposal if it qualifies for the ballot.
"We are actually hopeful that the legislators or whoever the people are that are likely to oppose us would be willing to recognize the will of the people," he said. "Why don't you let us have an honest ballot title? Let the people vote on it when they know are voting for. ... We are betting on the Arkansas voters."
The prospect of this proposal qualifying for the ballot has led some lawmakers and their staffs to begin researching how many of them would be barred from running for re-election in 2020 if voters approve the amendment.
The Arkansas Term Limits committee reported receiving contributions totaling $6,100 and spending $6,754.24 through March 31, according to the latest campaign finance report on the Arkansas Ethics Commission's website.
The panel has been aided by the U.S. Term Limits ballot committee, which reported receiving $371,915.60 from the U.S. Term Limits' general fund. It spent that much in Arkansas with California-based Arno Petition Consultants for paid petition management through the end of May.
A Section on 07/07/2018