Amending the State Constitution

Amending the State Constitution

From Senator Keith Ingram LITTLE ROCK – The state Constitution was adopted in 1874, but since then it has been amended 98 times.

Arkansas is one of 18 states that allow citizens to amend the constitution through a process that requires approval of the ballot title of the proposed amendment, followed by gathering signatures to have proposed amendments placed on the ballot. An amendment becomes part of the Constitution if voters approve it in a statewide election.

This year, two citizens’ groups have gained approval of ballot titles from the state attorney general’s office, and have turned in signatures to have proposed amendments placed on the November ballot. However, state officials are still verifying the signatures submitted with one of the proposals, to make sure that there are enough signatures of registered voters.

Also, a third group has turned in enough signatures to have an initiated act placed on the November ballot.

Even though both must be approved by voters to take effect, there is a significant difference between a constitutional amendment and an initiated act. The difference is in how they can be altered in the future.

After an amendment is approved by voters, it becomes part of the Constitution and the only way to change it would be for voters to approve a new amendment in a future statewide election. Examples are the several amendments that have changed and updated the state’s authority to issue revenue bonds and economic development bonds. Over the years, voters have approved amendments 62, 65, 78, 89, 90 and 97 to change the government’s authority to incur debt.

A simpler example would be the evolution of how libraries are funded. Amendment 72, adopted by voters in 1992, is known as the city and county library amendment. It changed amendments 30 and 38, two previous measures that authorized local taxes for libraries.

An initiated act does not become part of the Constitution. It can be amended, meaning that its provisions may be changed, by the legislature. It can even be repealed by the legislature.

Any change to an initiated act requires an extraordinary majority of 67 percent of legislators. An example is the act approved by voters in 1990 that created the state Ethics Commission.

Over time, the Ethics Commission’s jurisdiction over campaign finance laws has steadily grown, due to passage of new laws by the legislature. For example, the legislature approved Act 1287 of 2015 to add new definitions of conflict of interest that state officials must avoid. The act empowers the Ethics Commission to regulate and enforce the laws on conflicts of interest.

Between now and November, the ballot issues may be stricken because of legal challenges filed by opponents. If they remain on the ballot, there will be two proposed amendments and one proposed initiated act. The act would increase the minimum wage. One proposed amendment would allow casino gambling and the other would limit the number of terms that a legislator could serve.

State officials are still verifying the signatures submitted by supporters of the casino amendment.

In addition to the three proposals submitted by citizens’ groups, there will be two proposed amendments referred by the legislature. One would require voters to present a photo ID in order to cast a ballot, the other would limit punitive damages and attorneys’ fees in civil lawsuits.

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