Secretary of state’s office says measures can be on ballot despite confusion

LITTLE ROCK — An attorney for the secretary of state’s office said Thursday the office has cleared the way for three ballot measures referred to voters by the Legislature to appear on the November ballot, despite confusion over who is responsible for writing the popular names for the measures.

The confusion arose because Act 1413 of 2013, which requires paid canvassers to be registered with the state and to undergo state-prescribed training, includes a sort section that takes the authority of writing popular names for ballot measures referred by the Legislature away from the attorney general’s office but does not specify who is to write them.

Martha Adcock, general counsel for the secretary of state’s office, said Thursday in testimony before the House and Senate committees on state agencies and governmental affairs that because legislative activity on the three ballot measures was completed before the passage of Act 1413, legislators likely assumed that the attorney general would write the popular names.

Adcock said the attorney general’s office has provided the secretary of state’s office with popular names for the three ballot measures. She said the secretary of state’s office will use the bill titles of the measures as their ballot titles, as has been done in the past.

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, chairman of the Senate stage agencies panel, thanked Adcock for a “good solution to what could be a very complicated issue.”

Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, told reporters the attorney general’s office first learned of the proposed solution Thursday morning and needed time to review it.

Adcock told reporters the approach that the secretary of state’s office came up with is only for the three measures in question. She said the same problem should not arise in future years.

“If you look at what the new law indicates, it indicates (to the Legislature) ‘When you pass these out, put in a popular name and a ballot title,’” she said. “So for anything that’s passed out from ‘15 on, with the new law you have a remedy and you have a solution. It’s just for these three specific ones that are kind of caught in limbo.”

Adcock told the panel previously that confusion over the law raised the possibility of court challenges. That possibility remains, she told reporters Thursday.

“Somebody can always sue. This is no guarantee that there wouldn’t be litigation,” she said.

One of the ballot measures would raise the threshold for signatures required before a group collecting signatures in support of a ballot initiative could qualify for a “cure” period to correct deficiencies. Another would allow the Legislature to require state agencies to submit proposed rules for legislative review and approval.

A third proposal would, among other things, ban corporate and union gifts to political campaigns and ban most gifts to public officials. It also would allow legislators to serve up to 16 years and increase the minimum period between when a legislator leaves office and becomes a lobbyist from one year to two years.

The citizens’ group Regnat Populus had set aside a ballot proposal on ethics reform in deference to the ethics proposal referred by the Legislature, but last week the group said it would revive its push to get its measure on the ballot because of the uncertainty surrounding Act 1413.

David Couch, co-chairman of Regnat Populus, attended Thursday’s hearing and told reporters later he would review the secretary of state’s proposal.

“If I’m not sure that it’s going to work, we’ll probably go ahead and start gathering signatures,” he said.

Regnat Populus’ proposal would ban lobbyists from giving gifts to legislators, prohibit direct corporate and union contributions to candidates for public office and double the one-year “cooling-off” period that a lawmaker must wait after leaving office before becoming a lobbyist.