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No means no!

by Caleb Baumgardner | April 14, 2021 at 8:30 p.m.

You’re not going to believe this, Faithful Reader.

Then again, maybe you will.

Last year, Arkansas voted against Issue 3, which would have made it extremely difficult to get citizen initiated measures on the ballot. The measure failed by 56%

Apparently the takeaway many of our state legislators got from that vote was “Gee, the people of Arkansas must want us to find a different way to regulate the ballot initiative process out of existence!” Because they’re about to do just that.

These people ostensibly represent us, and yet they are about to enact a law in direct contravention of what we voted on last fall. They are about to enact a law that will make it much more difficult for the people of Arkansas to get something on the ballot, even though they were told by a majority of the people of Arkansas not to do so. They are attempting to overturn the Issue 3 election.

The Arkansas legislature is set to pass a law, SB614. It has passed the Arkansas Senate and has passed out of committee in the Arkansas House of Representatives. It is now before the House for a vote. I saw that it was amended and has been sent back to the Senate so that they can approve the amendment, but it’s close to passing. It just has to get approved as amended by the Senate, pass the House, and be signed by Governor Hutchinson.

Like Issue 3, it will make it much more difficult for citizens to get things on the ballot to vote on in Arkansas. But rather than trying to tinker with the process directly, which requires amending the Arkansas Constitution, the legislature is mucking around with the requirements to be a signature gatherer for ballot initiatives. This is something they can do without amending the Arkansas Constitution, which means we don’t have to vote on it. Only they do.

First, the bill bans people who have been convicted of certain criminal offenses from gathering signatures. The list of applicable offenses is quite extensive, and it includes things as serious as sexual assault on down to misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

The restrictions on those with criminal convictions are just to provide rhetorical cover, I’m sure. That way, if you oppose SB614, legislators who support it can say “Gee, I guess you want criminals getting things on the ballot! Why do you love criminals so much???!!!!” If a legislator votes against it, those who are for SB614 could run ads saying that that legislator voted to let criminals put measures on the ballot. That’s not something anyone who has to run for office wants to deal with. So this is designed, of course, to shut down meaningful discussion about the bill and make those who might otherwise oppose it fearful of doing so.

The real dangers of SB614, and the real reason I suspect many of its proponents want it to pass, is below.

SB614 also bans out of state petitioners and tying payment of signature collectors to the number of signatures collected. If adopted, these measures will significantly harm initiative and referendum petitioning in Arkansas, if not outright kill it entirely. But as with Issue 3, I think that’s the point.

I have been involved in a number of ballot initiative campaigns in this state, Faithful Reader. I have gone to many a corner and hollow of Arkansas to gather signatures for ballot measures I believed in. So believe me when I tell you that volunteers are important, but I’ve never seen a ballot initiative succeed without paid signature gatherers. You need them to get the job done. And that’s why SB614 is designed to make it so much harder for them to do the job.

Call your state representatives. For Union County folk that’s either Representative Matthew Shepherd at 870-862-2087 or Representative Sonia Barker at 870-814-7605.

Call your State Senator. That’s Senator Trent Garner at 870-818-9219.

Their emails are as follows: [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected]

These are their publicly available phone numbers and email addresses from the Arkansas General Assembly’s website.

Please tell them to oppose SB614 and not to vote to overturn the voters’ rejection of Issue 3.

Also, call Governor Hutchinson’s office at 501.682.2345. Urge him to veto SB614 if it makes it to his desk.

Please tell your family and friends to do the same.

Make sure our elected officials understand that when Arkansans vote against something, no means no!

Caleb Baumgardner is a local attorney. He can be reached at [email protected]

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