While much attention has been given lately to unsuccessful efforts on ballot proposals, not much publicity has been given to a proposal being circulated in a statewide petition drive this election year.
The proposed constitutional amendment, whose ballot language was approved by the attorney general's office in 2016, would limit state lawmakers to a maximum of 10 years of service.
The committee promoting the proposal has collected more than 70,000 signatures of registered voters and expects to collect enough signatures to qualify the proposal for the Nov. 6 general election ballot, a committee spokesman said.
The Arkansas Term Limits ballot committee's proposed amendment also would limit state representatives to three two-year terms in the House and state senators to two four-year terms in the Senate. It also would bar the Legislature from putting future term limits measures on the ballot.
Lawmakers can now serve up to 16 years in the House, Senate or both chambers under state constitutional Amendment 94, which voters approved in November 2014. The amendment doesn't count the two-year terms that senators serve once during the decade after Census-driven redistricting, so a senator who continues to win elections potentially could serve up to 18 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 10 years if they were elected to two four-year terms plus a redistricting-shortened two-year term.
The Arkansas Term Limits committee is chaired by Thomas Steele of Little Rock, and its spokesman is Tim Jacob of Little Rock, who also serves on the board of directors for U.S. Term Limits, which describes itself as the largest grass-roots term limits advocacy group in the nation.
The Arkansas Term Limits committee reported receiving contributions totaling $6,100 and spending $6,754.24, and having a balance of $159.09 through March 31.
The panel has been aided by the U.S. Term Limits ballot committee, which reported receiving a total of $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 April.
The Arkansas Term Limits committee also has been aided by the Family Council Action Committee ballot committee, which reported getting $750 in contributions and spending $691.91 through the end of April to distribute 5,000 petitions for the proposed constitutional amendment.
Jacob, who also is the spokesman for Arkansas Term Limits, said supporters have been collecting signatures for more than a year and have more than 70,000 signatures.
"We have about six weeks left, and we want to push it as hard as we can," he said in an interview last week.
A sponsor of a proposed amendment is required to turn in 84,859 valid signatures of registered voters by July 6 to qualify the measure for the Nov. 6 general election ballot. The secretary of state's office validates the signatures.
"It is not a cinch, but I think it is going to get done," Jacob said. He said the committee's goal is to collect 120,000 signatures of registered voters by July, "but I doubt we reach that." Ballot committees often collect more than enough on petitions in case some signatures are rejected.
Steele said he plans to have as many people as possible collecting signatures at the polls Tuesday.
Nick Tomboulides, executive director of U.S. Term Limits, said there is "a significant volunteer effort" to collect signatures for the proposal, so it's a combination of the paid and volunteer signature gathering that is going "to push this over the top."
He also said he expects the proposal to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.
But Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said limiting state lawmakers to serving 10 years in the Legislature "is very restrictive and there is value in having members here that [have] some continuity and understanding of the process, in particular when agency heads and others don't have that same time limitation in place.
"We should have term limits, but from what I understand, that would be more restrictive than we should," he said.
"If we are going to be straightforward, term limits exist ... every single time someone comes up [for election], and I think that's an important thing to remember."
Beyond extending the amount of time state lawmakers can serve, Amendment 94 also barred state elected officials from accepting certain gifts, such as meals in one-on-one meetings, from lobbyists; created a citizens commission to determine increases in the salaries of state elected officials; banned direct corporate and union contributions to state officials; and extended the cooling-off period for lawmakers before they can register as lobbyists.
State Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, and then-state Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, drafted what became Amendment 94.
Earlier this month, Woods was convicted of 15 charges of public corruption for taking kickbacks from state grants that he directed to nonprofit groups.
"Although the jury has served justice on the disgraced Senator Woods, the voters of Arkansas are still waiting for justice. That is why we will continue to work to restore term limits in Arkansas," Steele said in a recent news release.
Woods served in the House from 2007-13 and in the Senate from 2013-17. Woods could not be reached for comment by telephone last week. Sabin declined to comment.
The term limits proposal now being circulated is the last whose ballot language was approved by the office of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. Rutledge has not approved the ballot language -- the popular name and ballot title -- of any other proposal since the term limits proposal was approved in October 2016.
The attorney general's approval is needed before sponsors can begin gathering signatures. Rutledge, in rejecting the ballot language of various proposals, says she's trying to meet the standards set by the Arkansas Supreme Court. Sponsors of rejected proposals have taken Rutledge to court; Rutledge said she'd like the Legislature to change the process for proposing initiated acts and amendments.
SundayMonday on 05/20/2018
Print Headline: Petition seeks to limit legislators' terms to 10 years