POPULAR NAME: A constitutional amendment to amend the term limits applicable to members of the General Assembly, to be known as the “Arkansas Term Limits Amendment”
BALLOT TITLE: A constitutional amendment to be known as the “Arkansas Term Limits Amendment”; and amending the term limits applicable to members of the General Assembly.
What is being proposed?
This amendment asks voters to change term limits for the General Assembly as described in Amendment 73 of the Arkansas Constitution. If approved by the voters, this amendment would eliminate life-time term limits but require breaks in service for future state senators and representatives. Specifically, this amendment would:
1. Remove life-time term limits for state legislators.
2. Prohibit future legislators from serving more than 12 years in a row. Legislators who serve the full 12 years consecutively would be allowed to hold office again once four years have passed since their last term expired.
3. Include two-year senate terms resulting from apportionment after a census in calculating the years of consecutive service for legislators elected after Jan. 1, 2021. Currently, this two-year partial term does not count toward term limits.
Allow current legislators and any legislator elected this November to serve under the current term limit amendment, which allows them to serve 16 years consecutively or non-consecutively. They would be eligible to hold office in the future once four years have passed from their last term expiring.
When was the last time Arkansas voted on General Assembly term limits?
Term limits have been on the Arkansas ballot several times over the past 30 years. In 1992, Arkansas voters approved Amendment 73 which set terms for constitutional officers such as the governor and commissioner of state lands as well as state legislators. The amendment limited members of the House of Representatives to three two-year terms (a total of six years) and state senators to two four-year terms (a total of eight years).
In 2004, voters rejected a proposal to allow up to six two-year terms (12 years) in the House and three four-year terms (12 years) in the Senate.
In 2014, voters approved Amendment 94 to eliminate chamber-specifc term limits and cap the total number of years state legislators can serve at 16 years. The term limits were part of an amendment known to many people as the “ethics amendment” because of the new ethics requirements it included for legislators and the creation of an independent citizens commission responsible for establishing legislative pay.
In 2018, a proposed amendment from the public seeking to undo Amendment 94 was removed from the ballot before Election Day. The Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with challengers that voter signatures should be disqualified due to paperwork errors. The proposed constitutional amendment sought to set limits of two four-year terms in the Senate (eight years) and three two-year terms in the House (six years), an overall 10-year limit on service in the House and Senate combined.
How many years can a legislator serve now?
Currently, members of the General Assembly can serve a total of 16 years. They can serve all 16 years in the Senate or House of Representatives or any combination of the two.
There are some exceptions to this 16-year limit:
• A member who completes his or her 16th year of service during a term in which he or she has already been elected may serve until the completion of that term. This can create a scenario where a current legislator serves 18 to 20 years.
• Years for which a member who is serving a partial legislative term as the result of a special election called by the governor to flll a vacancy are not included in the calculation of total years.
• A two-year term served as a result of apportionment of the Senate is not included in the calculation of total years allowed. Apportionment is the process of redrawing the boundaries of an area that is represented by a state representative and senator to ensure that each legislator represents roughly the same number of people. This process occurs after a federal census.
How many years is a single term?
The length of a single term would not change under this proposal. Senators would still be elected to four-year terms; representatives would still be elected to two-year terms.
What do supporters say?
• For those who want to run government like a business, most business do not fire their board of directors or their management team every six, eight or 10 years.
• The amendment gives someone time to become experienced and to become effective while still accomplishing the goal of keeping term limits short enough that we get new blood.
• For those that are worried that this would create lifetime legislators, we know from experience in states with similar provisions allowing lawmakers to return to serve, only 5% of lawmakers returned. What we’re trying to do – with a requirement to sit out four years rather than 2 – we’re trying to take away the incumbent advantage because there definitely is one.
What do opponents say?
• This term limit amendment is actually a term extender because it allows current legislators, after serving the currently allowable 16 years, to sit out four years and run to serve 12 more years.
• The amendment removes the current lifetime limit, allowing politicians to return to office after just four years out.
• I just prefer that issues like that come from the voters as opposed to legislators trying to do it at this point.
• Legislators could have used the ballot title to tell voters what the amendment does, but chose not to. They could have told voters that this amendment will enable legislators to serve 10 years on and off for the rest of their lives. Or that the new 12 consecutive year limit doesn’t apply to themselves until they’ve maxed out current term limits. 16 years on, 4 off, 12 on means they can serve 28 of 32 years. For senators, it would be 22-4 12, which would be 34 of 38 years. 38 years in the legislature with a single 4-year break.