BY MELANIE BUCK –
A hot topic on the November ballot for Arkansas voters is Issue Number 3. As election day is less than a month away, supporters and opponents are actively advocating either for or against the Issue that will appear on the ballot for Arkansas voters to ultimately determine the fate.
Officially, Issue 3 is ‘The Arkansas Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency, and Financial Reform Act of 2014.” The proposed amendment’s main issues are:
• Regulating contributions candidates receive for state or local office
• Barring gifts from lobbyists to certain state officials
• To provide a citizens’ commission to set salaries of certain state officials
• To set term limits for members of the Arkansas General Assembly
Originally, the combination of issues was proposed as separate amendments, all authored by different legislators. As a compromise, the issues were grouped together to gain support for putting the changes before voters.
The section of Issue 3 that is actually the key item of debate is Section 5, which deals with term limits. The proposal is to re-set term limits for members of the House and Senate. Currently, members of the House of Representatives are limited to 6 years total (three two-year terms) and Senators are limited to a total of 8 years (two four-year terms). Under the proposed amendment, both terms would be extended to 16 years total, regardless of the chamber.
The first part of the amendment, Section 1, deals with ‘gifts from lobbyists.’ The amendment states that executive constitutional officers, members of the House and Senate, Justices, and Judges, would be prohibited from soliciting or accepting a gift from a lobbyist or anyone acting on behalf of a lobbyist. A gift is defined as “a payment, entertainment, advance, service or other item of value that is given without something of equal value in return.” The penalty for accepting gifts would be a Class B misdemeanor and the guilty party could be placed in jail for up to 90 days and pay a fine of up to $1000.
Section 2 of the amendment would create an Independent Citizens’ Commission for the purpose of setting salaries for executive constitutional officers, members of the House and Senate, Justices, and Judges. The Commission would have to consider the overall economic condition of the state in making their decisions. All salaries would be paid in monthly installments and no single adjustment can be made at one time that exceeds 15% of the salary level at that time. It also provides guidelines for reimbursements and per diem given to those the Commission sets salaries for.
Campaign Contributions are the subject of Section 3. It states that any candidate running for office cannot accept contributions from anyone except: an individual, a political party, a county political party committee, and legislative caucus committee, or an approved political action committee. Currently, Arkansas code limits amounts contributed to $2,000 per election from individuals and $2,500 per political party. If passed, these limits would then be set by the Arkansas General Assembly.
Section 4 proposes that no former member of the Arkansas General Assembly will be eligible to register as a lobbyist until 2 years after the end of their elected term.
House Representative Nate Bell summed up the amendment and stated, “This proposed amendment was the result of several government ethics groups working together with liberal and conservative legislators to present a balanced proposal. When ultimately presented to the legislature for a decision, it was presented in the form that is now on the ballot. In addition to the proposed changes to term limits, Issue 3 makes corporate contributions to candidates illegal. It makes it illegal for an elected official to accept any gift from a lobbyist that isn’t also offered to the general public. Issue 3 makes it illegal for the legislature to raise pay for state elected officials and judges and sets up an independent citizens commission to establish and monitor those salaries. Issue 3 makes it illegal for a member of the legislature to leave the legislature and become a paid lobbyist without a 2-year cooling off period.
I believe each of these issues are important questions of ethics and transparency. I support some of the provisions in Issue 3 and oppose others. I voted to refer this ballot question to voters because I believe Arkansas voters are more than capable of deciding these issues for themselves.”
To find out more about this Issue and others that will be included on the ballot in November, visit the University of Arkansas Public Policy Center website for non-partisan facts at www.uaex.edu/ppc.