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Citizens and lawmakers aim to change Constitution

In this photo from 2012, Jerry Cox, president of Arkansas Family Council, was speaking against medical marijuana.  He also opposes the two medical marijuana measures on the 2016 ballot. The measures camouflage recreational marijuana in medical garb, Mr. Cox said. (AP file photo by Danny Johnston)

Six proposed constitutional amendments and one initiated act will be on the ballot when Arkansas voters go to the polls November  8.

Three of the proposed changes to the state constitution were referred by the Legislature, which during each session in an odd-numbered year can refer up to three amendments to the next year’s ballot. The other three proposed constitutional amendments were referred by citizen groups through a signature-gathering process. One citizen-initiated proposed initiated act also is on the ballot.

Because constitutional amendments change the state constitution, they can only be repealed by voters. An initiated act can be changed by the Legislature with a three-fourths majority vote.

The Public Policy Center at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture in mid-September released its 2016 Voter Guide, which provides research-based information on the issues to help voters better understand each proposal. The guide notes that each of the four issues supported by citizen groups face legal challenges.

Issue 1 on the ballot, according to the Voter Guide, is a proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that would affect state elections in three ways. First, it would expand the terms of elected county officials, except for justices of the peace, from two years to four years. Second, it would prohibit any elected county official, including justice of the peace, from being appointed to or elected to any civil service office. Third, it would allow a candidate for office who is unopposed to be elected without appearing on the ballot.

The proposed amendment also would define “infamous crime,” an act that disqualifies a person form holding elected office. Currently, the state constitution does not define “infamous crime,” and the courts have defined the phrase to mean “to include crimes involving deceit and dishonesty,” according to the Voter Guide. “Recent legal interpretations included theft or crimes that harmed the integrity of office and impact a person’s ability to serve as an elected official.”  Issue 1 was referred to voters by the Legislature.

Issue 2, also proposed by the Legislature, is a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the governor to retain power and duties when absent from the state. Currently, the Arkansas Constitution requires the lieutenant governor to serve as acting governor when the governor is outside Arkansas.

Issue 3 is a proposed constitutional amendment designed to ease restrictions on government support of economic development projects.

The proposal, which was referred by the Legislature, would remove the cap on bonds the state can issue for large projects, or “super projects.” The current cap is 5 percent of the state’s general revenue from the most recent fiscal year. The proposal also would allow city and county governments to devote funds to economic development projects, a use of public money that has been ruled unconstitutional. It also would allow cities, counties and school districts to form compacts to pursue economic development projects; allow counties and cities to issue bonds for the projects and not just for industry development, as is the case now. It also would allow the Legislature to use other tax dollars beside the revenue from special taxes to pay off municipal and county bond debt, and remove a requirement that municipal and county bonds be sold only at a public sale.

Issue 4 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow limits on damages in medical lawsuits. Under the proposal sponsored by Health Care Access for Arkansas, the Legislature would be allowed to establish a maximum dollar amount that people can receive in medical-injury lawsuits for non-economic damages, as long as the maximum is not less than $250,000. The measure also would prohibit attorneys from charging clients more than one-third of the award they win in medical-injury lawsuits.

Issue 5, also a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, would allow three casinos to operate in Arkansas. Casino gambling is banned in the constitution. Under the measure, specific companies named in the amendment and no others would be allowed to operate in Boone, Miller and Washington counties. Those counties were selected because they border states – Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas and Missouri – where casino gambling is legal and available.

Arkansas Wins 2016 is behind the measure, which specifically states the three companies that will operate the three casinos; those companies would have the right to transfer the license for the casinos.

A five-member state gaming commission would regulate the casinos, which would pay taxes on net gaming receipts of 18 percent to the state, 0.5 percent to the county and 1.5 percent to the city.

Issue 6 is the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, which would amend the Arkansas Constitution to legalize physician-certified medical marijuana in the state. The citizen-initiated proposal would limit the number of marijuana dispensaries in the state to 40 and would give the Arkansas Beverage Control Division authority to inspect the dispensaries.

Issue 7, the citizen-initiated the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, an initiated act, that would legalize physician-certified medical marijuana in Arkansas. Under the proposal, individuals with an approved “hardship certificate” who live more than 20 miles from a care center, would be allowed to grow up to 10 cannabis plants.

The ballot measures.


And more.


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