HB1419, a bill to eradicate community-led ballot initiatives, sidesteps constitutional amendment language
The Arkansas Legislature, aka the broligarchy, does not believe in the people’s right to the ballot process. This is as disappointing as is it unconstitutional, though the unconstitutionality does not bother the bill’s sponsors.
Last month, another bill attempting to amend the constitution by hampering citizens ballot initiatives flew through the Senate. SB260 would require signatures of residents from at least 50 counties and requires a higher threshold of signatures from each of those counties than current law. HB1419 is similar, though the bill does not specify that it would amend the Arkansas Constitution. Members are hoping to sneak it through by avoiding constitutional amendment language.
HB1419 is more “streamlined” version of SB260, said Senate bill sponsor Jim Dotson. By streamlined, perhaps he means murkier. According to State Agencies Chair Blake Johnson, the bill is not a constitutional amendment but rather a statue. By removing constitutional amendment language, sponsors hope to avoid legal challenges since amendments must be referred to Arkansas voters, not passed via the standard bill drafting process.
Democrats didn’t fall for the cutesy legislative trick. “This [bill] plainly violates the language of the state constitution.,” said Sen. Clarke Tucker. “Let’s be real: this bill is about power and control. The legislature wants to have total control over the ballot initiative process.”
Tucker also noted that in a previous session, the legislature referred a similar amendment to the people of Arkansas, who ultimately voted it down. The defeated legislative referral had a lower threshold requirement than what HB1419 proposes.
Indeed, Arkansas voters have made it clear time and time again that they support and uphold their right to the ballot process. “The message I’ve received from Arkansans is ‘stop trying to mess with our ability to put issues on the ballot,'” said Tucker. Sen. Bart Hester disagreed; Arkansans are fickle and change their minds a lot, said Hester. HB1419 passed Senate State Agencies by a vote of of 5-2.
The legislature’s super majority is uninterested in protecting the people’s sacred right to propose laws via the ballot process. Rather, they are threatened by what Arkansas voters have chosen to pass and strike down via the ballot process.
Some members are also fearful of substantial primary reform, which have been successfully enacted via community-led ballot initiatives in other states. Primary reform, including methods like a like top-two primary system, discourage partisanship during primary elections. Arkansas’s current super majority exists because extremism provided a path to power. The ballot initiative process, as it currently stands in Arkansas law, directly threatens Arleg’s current power structure.
Chair of Senate State Agencies, Blake Johnson, said in committee that our government is not a democracy but rather a republic, which was echoed by Sen. Dotson. This is incorrect: our government is a representative democracy. Our leaders are democratically elected to represent the people’s interests, not eradicate their power.