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arkansas-ethics-reforms-term-limitsOn Tuesday, Arkansas voters approved the most sweeping state ethics reforms in 20 years while shattering legislative term limits they overwhelmingly put in place back in 1992.  The legislatively referred Issue #3 passed statewide 63% to 47% and in Faulkner County by 51% to 49%.

This permanent change to the Arkansas Constitution:

1.  Sets up a panel that now sets salaries for our legislators and judiciary; panel members are named by the state House & Senate leaders, the Governor and the Arkansas Supreme Court Justice.

Before passage, the Legislature set its own salaries, a dubious activity that at least kept our legislators accountable to the people.  Now voters have no recourse when the hand-picked panel sets salaries for the very folks who named them to that panel!

You need to know that in the first year this panel has unlimited power to set salaries as high as they wish; in subsequent years the raises are limited to 15%.

Is this what you wanted when you voted “YES” on Issue #3?

In 1992, Arkansas voters — with a 60% “YES” vote — “established term limits” of 3 two-year terms (6 years) in the State House and 2 four-year terms (8 years) in the State Senate (14 years in total if someone serves in both chambers).  That year, term limits got more votes percentage-wise than Bill Clinton did!

In 2004, the Legislature tried lengthening terms to 12 years in each chamber, but voters said “NO’ — this time by 70%.

2.  Extends existing voter-approved term limits. In Arkansas, each decennial census and redistricting cuts a state Senator’s term in half, causing a special election, 2-year term afterward — so the old rule allowed a state Senator who previously served in the House to possibly serve as long as 16 years because the special term is not included in term limits.

Now any legislator serving in either or both chambers can serve a total of 18 years (that special 2-year term is still not included), and someone with several 2-year terms could serve a total of 22 years.

Is this what you wanted when you voted “YES” on Issue #3?

3.  Puts in place several ethics reforms: changes the prohibition on legislators working as lobbyists from 1 year to 2 years from the end of their terms, and bans lobbying gifts and corporate political contributions.

You remember the intense discussions surrounding these ethics reforms, don’t you?  Don’t you remember discussing all these details so you would know about the pros and cons, and understand why the Legislature wanted you to approve Issue #3?

Of course not, because there was no state-wide discussion!  GOP House Speaker Davy Carter and Senator Jon Woods, as they did with the Medicaid expansion opposed by so many Republican voters, worked “across the aisle” with Democrats to put Democrat Rep. Warwick Sabin’s pet ethics project onto the playing field — but didn’t bother to discuss any of it with Arkansas voters.

In many ways the flavor of our state legislature changed with Tuesday’s historic tsunami GOP vote.  But remember, it was last year’s GOP-majority state legislature that brought this “ethics” measure to the people for passage.  Are you satisfied with the transparency and accountability they demonstrated?

When you voted, did you know the facts about Issue #3?