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story.lead_photo.caption At left, a screenshot of the Arkansas Supreme Court's opinion blocking votes from being counted on Issue 1. At right, a file photo of the court.

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas' highest court Thursday ordered election officials to not count votes for a proposal to limit damages awarded in civil lawsuits and rejected an effort to block an initiative to raise the state's minimum wage.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on the two ballot measures days before early voting begins for the Nov. 6 midterm election. Justices upheld a state judge's ruling that the ballot measure limiting civil lawsuit damages unconstitutionally combined separate proposals. The measure also would have given the Legislature control over court rules in the state.

"The actual text of (the ballot measure) itself, even by a generous reading, institutes at least seven individual numerated changes or additions to the constitution that would significantly alter the status quo," Justice Jo Hart wrote in the court's 6-1 ruling.

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Arkansas Supreme Court opinion on Issue 1

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The ballot measure blocked by the court would have capped civil damages at $500,000 for noneconomic losses, such as pain and psychological distress. It would cap punitive damages at $500,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded, whichever is higher. It also would cap attorneys' contingency fees at one-third of the net amount recovered.

"We see this as a win for the people of the state of Arkansas, that the constitution has meaning and it supports people's rights," said Jeff Priebe, an attorney for the retired judge challenging the measure.

Arkansas' majority-Republican Legislature last year voted to send voters the measure, an effort backed by business groups to reinstate legal caps that have been chipped away over the years by court rulings.

"This very ruling demonstrates the need for the reforms contained in Issue 1 that seek to restore the balance among our branches of government," Carl Vogelpohl, campaign manager for Arkansans for Jobs and Justice, the group behind the measure.

Supporters and opponents of the measure had spent more than $4.6 million combined on the campaign, with a flood of TV ads running throughout Arkansas. The proposal had faced surprising opposition from some Christian conservatives, including a group that rallied churches and abortion opponents against the measure.

Also, justices unanimously rejected a separate lawsuit trying to disqualify the proposal to gradually raise Arkansas' minimum wage from $8.50 an hour to $11 by 2021. Opponents of the proposal, which had included the state Chamber of Commerce, had challenged some of the signatures submitted for the initiative as invalid.

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Arkansas Supreme Court opinion on Issue 5

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Supporters of the wage hike said they planned to ramp up their advertising campaign now that the proposal cleared the legal challenge.

"We've been holding back and being very conservative up until this point in time because you don't want to spend a lot money and be taken off the ballot," said David Couch, the attorney for the wage-hike campaign.

Arkansas' minimum wage is higher than its surrounding states, though a wage increase is also on Missouri's ballot next month.

"If it passes, this measure will be detrimental to our state's economy, costing Arkansas jobs, increasing prices for Arkansas consumers, and ultimately hurting many Arkansas workers," Randy Zook, president of the state Chamber of Commerce, said.

The Supreme Court has yet to rule on a lawsuit challenging another ballot measure that would impose the strictest term limits in the country on Arkansas' legislators. The court last week rejected a challenge to a casino legalization measure.

Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

— The Associated Press

EARLIER:

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the wording of Issue 1 — a proposed amendment that would enact sweeping changes to the authority of Arkansas courts — failed to meet constitutional muster and ordered that no votes for or against the measure be counted in the upcoming election.

Justices also rejected a separate lawsuit trying to disqualify a proposal to gradually raise Arkansas' minimum wage from $8.50 an hour to $11 by 2021. Opponents of the proposal had challenged some of the signatures submitted for the initiative.

The 6-1 ruling by the court on Issue 1 affirmed an earlier decision by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce.

Issue 1 was referred to the voters last year by the legislature. It proposed to enact caps on attorneys fees and certain lawsuit damages, while giving legislators final rule making authority over the courts.

The campaign for the issue had already heated up, with millions of dollars raised by competing business and legal groups.

Television spots regarding the issue have also been airing for weeks.

— John Moritz

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Archived Comments

  • 0boxerssuddenlinknet
    October 18, 2018 at 2:50 p.m.

    whoa RBear didn't our legislature send Issue one to the voters as stated in paragraph five of this article or am I once again misinterpreting the english language ?

  • Inquirer51
    October 18, 2018 at 3:13 p.m.

    The Supreme Court made the right decision. The Legislature has no business making rules for the Courts. That was the biggest problem. Close behind was setting an arbitrary limit of $500,000.00 on non-economic damages. Granted, this is rarely a factor because very, very few cases result in verdicts for noneconomic damages above $500,000.00, such as the Faulkner County Case that got Mike Maggio in trouble. However, such cases do happen, and the victims deserve to be compensated.

  • RBear
    October 18, 2018 at 3:21 p.m.

    Boxer Issue 1 required voter approval since it changes a prior amendment to the Constitution. If the legislators could have gotten away with it, the changes would have never gone to the voters. Try again.

  • Guest0987
    October 18, 2018 at 3:32 p.m.

    Yes, Good.

  • JA40
    October 18, 2018 at 4:35 p.m.

    It's good to see so many feel the same as I do about our corrupt legislature. Thought I was by myself. I have Beck and Sanders, and they are awful.

  • joedog
    October 18, 2018 at 5:13 p.m.

    ARKANSAS64, The problem with the Arkansas legislature is that not enough of them understand very much about the law or making laws (which is their job, right, they are lawmakers). They get waaaay to much help and funding from lobbyists funded by special interest groups. Thanks to term limits, every two years a new batch of legislators (who are mostly not lawyers) is greeted at the door of the state capitol by these professional lobbyists who are soooo friendly and ready to help the newbies with writing bills and learning about the issues the lobbyists' clients think are reeeealy important. Its a match made in heaven. "Gosh, that's not so hard is it."

  • Guest0987
    October 18, 2018 at 6:18 p.m.

    So glad this has been stopped. Legislative over reach.

  • plainj
    October 18, 2018 at 7:15 p.m.

    It's always good to see the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce suffer a defeat such as this one. The two decisions were a huge victory for ordinary citizens and working people, and an indication that the big corporations and the wealthy on't completely control everything. There is still some hope for the workers of the world.

  • CartoonDude
    October 19, 2018 at 7:44 a.m.

    Did anybody really think the courts were going to let voters have any say in what THEY do?

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