Ballot Issue #3: “Ethics” & Extending Term Limits
The third of this year’s legislatively referred Constitutional amendments, Issue #3 or the so-called “Ethics Amendment,” actually includes three items that need to be studied:
The first item in the proposed amendment is new restrictions on lobbying, including prohibiting corporate campaign contributions, limiting lobbyists’ gifts to travel expenses for educational conferences and meals available to the general public, and extending from one to two years the time before a former legislator can become a lobbyist.
These reforms are a continuing effort last seen in Arkansas when Paul Spencer, a Catholic High teacher, and David Couch, a Little Rock attorney, pushed for a state ethics law in 2012. (You may remember the support group Regnat Populus.)
A second item in this measure sets up an 7-person “independent citizens payment advisory commission” that will review and adjust salaries for the governor, all Constitutional officers, Supreme Court justices, district and circuit court judges, and the Arkansas Legislature.
What supporters don’t tell you is the bill provides that the Governor, House Speaker and Senate Pro Tem each name 2 members of this citizens commission, while the Chief Justice names one. Currently the General Assembly has to at least answer to the people when they address their own salaries; this measure takes that check-and-balance away.
What a perfect setup for bribery and corruption, as the sweeping measure affects pay for all upper level state government, as well as the entire judiciary, set by a personally named commission! (And, this measure would give the very influential House Speaker even more power; read more here.)
A third item seems to bring the most heartburn, although the so-called “independent citizens payment commission” is just as onerous.
When the Arkansas Legislature voted to bring Issue #3 before the people as an “ethics amendment,” they neglected to tell you about one single paragraph on page 16 of the 22-page bill that has nothing to do with “ethics.”
The single paragraph (with no additional explanation) extends the length of time state legislators can stay in office to 16 years, effectively DOUBLING the current term limits. What the legislators didn’t say is that the people of Arkansas voted overwhelmingly not once, but twice, giving a clear mandate on our current term limits.
In 1992 when Arkansas voters implemented term limits, the new term limits of 6 years/3 terms in the State House and 8 years/2 terms in the State Senate received more votes than Bill Clinton! In 2004, when the Arkansas Legislature attempted to change voters’ minds by referring a measure extending those term limits to 12 years in each chamber, 70% of voters loudly said “NO.”
This time, lawmakers have tried to hide their intent by burying the paragraph about term limits into the 22-page “ethics” amendment — even the title is misleading when it says “establishing” term limits. Clearly voters did that back in 1992.
Supporters say the measure implements the strongest ethics reforms in 20 years and that it “would counter the influence of lobbyists and bureaucrats, generally making the government run better.”
How will YOU vote on Issue #3?