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In the last week of the 2019 legislative session in Arkansas, a proposed constitutional amendment would limit citizens’ rights by making it harder for the public to amend the state constitution.

HJR1008 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it harder for a citizens led initiative to propose and pass constitutional amendments to the Arkansas constitution. Currently, signatures from at least half of the eligible voters in fifteen of Arkansas’ 75 counties must be collected to make it on the ballot. This amendment would increase that rate to 3/5th of all counties, or 45 of all counties. It would also require all measures to be submitted by January 15 of the election year, moving up the due date by almost six months.

The bill does not decrease the number of referred constitutional amendments the legislature can propose, currently three each legislative session. It does raise the threshold to pass referred amendments from a simple majority to a 3/5th majority vote for the legislature.

It removes the “cure” period in which groups could get additional signatures if it is determined they have a minimum necessary to continue but some are struck by government actors. Any lawsuits challenging the sufficiency of a proposed amendment must be filed by April 15 of the election year. No changes to challenging the sufficiency of legislatively referred amendments is included.

While the legislature maintains their power to change the Arkansas constitution, and have done so numerous times over the past few legislative sessions, this would make it harder or nearly impossible for a citizen led initiative to qualify for the general election ballot. It appears now that the legislature has gotten their terms extended, pay increased, and taxes inside the constitution they want to shut the door on citizen amendments to change that. It goes against the principles of a more open, honest, and accountable government.

The measure was introduced by State Rep. DeAnne Vaught and State Sen. Matt Pitsch.

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