LITTLE ROCK — A group that opposes lengthening term limits for state legislators said Thursday it hopes a lawsuit by three Arkansas voters will raise public awareness about the true nature of a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot.
The ballot committee Arkansas Term Limits held a news conference in downtown Little Rock to announce its support for a lawsuit filed Aug. 1 in Pulaski County Circuit Court challenging a measure that was referred to the ballot last year by the state Legislature. Among other things, the measure would allow members of the Legislature to serve up to 16 years in either chamber.
Currently, a 1992 constitutional amendment limits legislators to three two-year terms in the House and two four-year terms in the Senate, or a total of 14 years.
“We are here to fully support the lawsuit that has been filed by citizens of this state to remove this deceptive amendment from the ballot,” said Tim Jacob of Little Rock, co-chairman of Arkansas Term Limits.
The lawsuit by voters Yvonne Rich, Frederick Scott and Kathleen Wikstrom alleges that the proposed amendment known as Issue No. 3 should be stricken from the ballot because neither its ballot title nor its popular name informs voters that it would lengthen term limits.
The ballot title states that one of the purposes of the measure is “establishing term limits for members of the General Assembly.” The popular name states that one of the purposes is “setting” legislators’ term limits.
The measure already has been the subject of some confusion in the Legislature, with some lawmakers telling the Arkansas New Bureau in October that they were not aware it would lengthen term limits.
“We welcome the opportunity to debate this openly,” Jacob said Thursday. “If they want to put an honest title on the ballot, that would be just great. But we can’t do it with deceptive language where it’s hidden halfway in the bill.”
Jacob said Arkansas Term Limits does not plan to intervene or file a brief in the lawsuit. He said the group will continue working to oppose the ballot measure because the ultimate outcome of the lawsuit is unknown.
By Thursday afternoon, Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office had not filed a response to the suit.
State Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, who sponsored the legislation that became Issue No. 3, said Thursday the provision on term limits was not his idea but was added to the measure as part of a compromise. He said all parts of the bill were debated openly during the 2013 regular session.
“There wasn’t any attempt to sneak anything by anyone,” he said.
If approved by voters, Issue No. 3 also would impose new limits on campaign contributions; ban legislators and constitutional officers from accepting gifts from lobbyists, with certain exceptions; create a commission to set salaries for state elected officials; and increase the waiting period between when a legislator leaves office and is allowed to register as a lobbyist from one year to two years.