Challenges filed against ballot measures

Legal challenges have been filed against four measures that have been certified to appear on the November general election ballot.

Three other measures were referred by the legislature and there is no legal question about their being on the ballot. Depending on the outcome of the legal challenges, it is possible from three to seven ballot issues will be decided by Arkansas voters Nov. 8.

The state attorney general’s office has approved their ballot titles and the secretary of state’s office has certified that sponsors of the measures submitted enough valid signatures of registered voters to qualify for placement on the ballot. The legal challenges were filed by advocacy groups that oppose the measures.

Two of the ballot issues would legalize medical marijuana. One is a proposed constitutional amendment and the other is a proposed initiated act.

The difference between the two types of measures is that an initiated act, if approved by a vote of the people, creates a statute that may be changed by the two-thirds majority of the legislature. A constitutional amendment can be changed only by another statewide vote of the people, unless it specifically empowers the legislature to make changes. For example, Amendment 94 was approved in 2014 and it authorizes the legislature to make changes to it.

Two other proposed amendments were brought to the ballot by sponsoring groups that gathered signatures on petitions. Both face legal challenges.

One would limit the amount of punitive damages that could be awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits and the other would allow three new casinos. They would be allowed in Washington, Boone and Miller counties.

The legal challenges vary, but in general they question the accuracy of the ballot titles and the sufficiency of the signatures submitted by sponsoring groups. This year, under a new law, paid canvassers must undergo criminal background checks. One legal challenge claims that the background checks were not done properly for some canvassers, and therefore all the signatures they gathered should be invalidated.

To place a proposed initiated act on the ballot, sponsoring groups must submit signatures of registered voters gathered in at least 15 counties. The number of signatures must be at least 8 percent of the number of voters in the most recent election for governor. This year that is 67,887 signatures. To put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot you must submit signatures representing 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election. This year that is 84,859 signatures.

Revenue report

The state’s net general revenue for August was $416.1 million, which was 2 percent below forecast.

Sales tax remissions to the state were down 2.2 percent from August of last year, and income tax collections were down by 0.5 percent from past year.

July and August were the first two months of state fiscal year 2017, and for those

two months net available revenue was below forecast by $15.3 million, or 1.8 percent.

The forecast is the basis for writing state agency budgets. If collections fall too far below the forecast, state government will trim its budget to make ends meet. Arkansas operates under a balanced budget law know as the Revenue Stabilization Act.

If you have any questions or comments about legislative issues, contact me at terry.rice@senate.ar.gov or call me at (479) 650-9712.