Senator Linda Collins-Smith filed SJR10 to end the legislature’s ability to use DECEPTIVE BALLOT TITLES and DECEPTIVE POPULAR NAMES on the constitutional amendments they refer to a vote of the people.
If adopted, SJR10 would be one of the most important reforms made to our constitution. This is good government legislation and should be supported by both conservatives and liberals.
Currently, the legislature is allowed to use deceptive ballot titles
Did you know there is a different standard for ballot issues proposed by the people and those proposed by the legislature? If proposed by:
- The people by initiative: The ballot title must accurately and impartially summarize the provisions of the proposal and is subject to review by the Attorney General and the court.
- The legislature: The ballot title is allowed to be deceptive, as long as the deception isn’t so horrendous as to be declared “MANIFEST FRAUD”.
There is no good reason for the legislature to be allowed to use deception to get voters to pass proposed amendments to the Arkansas Constitution. There is no good reason for a legislator to sit silently while a colleague proposes deception.
While deceptive ballot titles is a tool allowed to the legislature, there is a good process to ensure amendments proposed by the people are not deceptive. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is responsible for reviewing amendments proposed by the people to make sure the ballot title is accurate and impartial. Attorney General Rutledge has done an excellent job. Some groups were upset when she sent their proposals back for revisions to meet the standards, but in doing so she was protecting the people from deception.
The court set the standards so low we have no protection from deceptive constitutional amendments proposed by the legislature. SJR10 would change that.
Examples of deceptive titles
The legislature sending deceptive constitutional amendment to a vote of the people has been too common. Here are just two recent examples of deception that helped pass new amendments to the Arkansas Constitution.
Issue 3 of 2016 – The popular name of Issue 3 of 2016 was “An Amendment to the Arkansas Constitution Concerning Job Creation, Job Expansion, and Economic Development.” How could you be against a popular name like that? It might as well of said “An Amendment for sunshine and rainbows.” The popular name wasn’t a description of the proposal. Instead it was a statement of hoped for results should the amendment have positive results.
The ballot title was only a little better and had serious omissions.
Much of Issue 3 was about the state and local government financially assisting corporations through the issuance of bonds and other assistance. The title omitted the important fact that the bonds had to be paid by the taxpayers. The amendment also danced around the fact that it authorized the state to take on an unlimited amount of bond debt to help favored corporations. Those are rather important omissions.
Issue 3 of 2014 – Before the 2014 election, a pro-term limit group began warning voters Issue 3 of 2014 was a Trojan horse that would weaken, not establish, term limits. Local TEA Party groups joined in the warning, but, the warnings were too little, too late. Most people thought this ballot proposal was about ethics reform but that was a deception too.
We will mention four of the deceptions the legislature included in the ballot title of this constitutional amendment.
- Establishing term limits for members of the General Assembly. Many voters would think “establishing” meant Arkansas didn’t have term limits. However, term limits had been “established” since January 1, 1993 by Amendment 73. Instead, the amendment weakened term limits law to allow legislators to stay in office much longer. Here the word “establishing” only meant a different standard was being set.
- Defining the key terms relating to that [lobbyist gift] prohibition. The amendment prohibited gifts from lobbyists, but then turned around to redefine “gift” so lobbyists can provide legislators three free meals with drinks a day, any day, as long as the lobbyist invites a full committee or all of the House of Representatives or Senate, and the amendment continued to allow lobbyists to pay for travel if the legislator is appearing in his official capacity.
- Prohibiting members of the General Assembly from setting their own salaries. The truth is they couldn’t set their salaries, except for a standard cost of living adjustment. The amendment created the “Independent Citizens Committee” to set salaries, but a majority of the “independent” committee members are chosen by legislators. No wonder they got a huge increase in 2015.
- The ballot title conveniently failed to mention that the legislature gave itself the power to change much of the amendment, without a vote of the people. It only requires a two-thirds vote of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
We want to repeat: There is no good reason for the legislature to be allowed to use deception to get voters to pass proposed amendments to the Arkansas Constitution. There is no good reason for a legislator to sit silently while a colleague proposes deception.
More restrictions in SJR10
In addition to reforming the ballot titles and popular names of amendments to the Arkansas Constitution proposed by the legislature, SJR10 also:
- Makes sure the legislature’s proposal has broad support in the legislature, by raising the number of votes needed for the legislature to propose an amendment. Currently the legislature may propose an amendment with only a simple majority, but SJR10 would a three-fourths vote of each house before the proposal can be submitted to a vote of the people.
- Provides for the correction of deceptive titles by authorizing the Attorney General substitute corrected ballot titles and popular names of an amendment proposed by the legislature.
Thank you, Senator Linda Collins-Smith, for proposing SJR10. It is an important reform. We hope all your colleagues in the legislature also want to clean up the process.
[i] Issue 3 of 2016
Popular Name: “An Amendment to the Arkansas Constitution Concerning Job Creation, Job Expansion, and
Ballot Title: AN AMENDMENT TO THE ARKANSAS CONSTITUTION TO ENCOURAGE JOB CREATION, JOB EXPANSION,
AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT; REMOVING THE LIMITATION ON THE PRINCIPAL AMOUNT OF
GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS THAT MAY BE ISSUED UNDER AMENDMENT 82 OF THE ARKANSAS
CONSTITUTION TO ATTRACT LARGE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS; AUTHORIZING A CITY,
COUNTY, TOWN, OR OTHER MUNICIPAL CORPORATION TO OBTAIN OR APPROPRIATE MONEY FOR
ANY CORPORATION, ASSOCIATION, INSTITUTION, OR INDIVIDUAL TO FINANCE ECONOMIC
DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS AND TO PROVIDE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT SERVICES; AUTHORIZING
THE ISSUANCE OF BONDS UNDER AMENDMENT 62 OF THE ARKANSAS CONSTITUTION FOR
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS; AUTHORIZING THE TAXES THAT MAY BE PLEDGED TO
RETIRE BONDS ISSUED UNDER AMENDMENT 62 OF THE ARKANSAS CONSTITUTION FOR ECONOMIC
DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS; REMOVING THE REQUIREMENT OF A PUBLIC SALE FOR BONDS ISSUED
UNDER AMENDMENT 62 OF THE ARKANSAS CONSTITUTION FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS;
AND AUTHORIZING COMPACTS FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS AMONG CITIES OF THE
FIRST AND SECOND CLASS, INCORPORATED TOWNS, SCHOOL DISTRICTS, AND COUNTIES.
[ii] Issue 3 of 2016
Popular name: “AN AMENDMENT REGULATING CONTRIBUTIONS TO CANDIDATES FOR STATE OR LOCAL OFFICE, BARRING GIFTS FROM LOBBYISTS TO CERTAIN STATE OFFICIALS, PROVIDING FOR SETTING SALARIES OF CERTAIN STATE OFFICIALS, AND SETTING TERM LIMITS FOR MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY”
Ballot title: “TO AMEND THE ARKANSAS CONSTITUTION CONCERNING ELECTED STATE OFFICIALS; PROHIBITING MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY AND ELECTED CONSTITUTIONAL OFFICERS OF THE EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT FROM ACCEPTING GIFTS FROM LOBBYISTS, AND DEFINING KEY TERMS RELATING TO THAT PROHIBITION; PROHIBITING MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY FROM SETTING THEIR OWN SALARIES AND THE SALARIES OF ELECTED CONSTITUTIONAL OFFICERS OF THE EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT, JUSTICES, AND JUDGES; ESTABLISHING A SEVEN-MEMBER INDEPENDENT CITIZENS COMMISSION TO SET SALARIES FOR MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY, ELECTED CONSTITUTIONAL OFFICERS OF THE EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT, JUSTICES, AND JUDGES; ESTABLISHING THE APPOINTMENT PROCESS FOR MEMBERS OF THE INDEPENDENT CITIZENS COMMISSION, AND PROHIBITING MEMBERS OF THE INDEPENDENT CITIZENS COMMISSION FROM ACCEPTING GIFTS FROM LOBBYISTS; PROHIBITING CERTAIN CONTRIBUTIONS, INCLUDING CONTRIBUTIONS BY CORPORATIONS, TO CANDIDATES FOR PUBLIC OFFICE; PROHIBITING A MEMBER OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY FROM REGISTERING AS A LOBBYIST UNTIL TWO (2) YEARS AFTER THE EXPIRATION OF HIS OR HER TERM; AND ESTABLISHING TERM LIMITS FOR MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY.”