LITTLE ROCK – Depending on the outcome of legal challenges that are being considered by the state Supreme Court, Arkansas voters could decide five ballot issues at the November 6 general election.
The legislature referred Issue One and Issue Two to the ballot during last year’s regular session. The other three issues were brought to the ballot by citizens’ groups that gathered signatures of registered voters on petitions.
The first four issues are proposed amendments to the state Constitution. The fifth is a proposed initiated act; approval by voters would place it in the statute books but not in the Constitution. The process of changing a statute is simpler than changing a constitutional amendment. It is less time consuming and less expensive, too.
Issue One would cap attorneys’ fees and the amounts that plaintiffs can be awarded in a civil case. Contingency fees for attorneys would be limited to a third of the net recovery for plaintiffs. Punitive damages would be limited to $500,000, or three times the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater.
The legislature could raise the cap on damages by an extraordinary majority of two-thirds of the membership of each chamber. The legislature could not lower the cap.
Opponents of the ballot measure were successful at the lower court level, when a circuit judge ruled that the various sections of the proposed amendment do not relate to each other, thus making the overall impact unclear.
For that reason he ruled that no votes should be counted, either for or against Issue One. However, his ruling is on appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Issue Two would require voters to present a government-issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot. So far there have been no legal challenges filed against Issue Two being on the ballot.
Issue Three would limit terms of elected officials even more than under our current term limits amendment.
The measure was stricken from the ballot by a special master appointed by the Supreme Court, who ruled that petitions submitted by supporters did not have enough signatures of registered voters. The Supreme Court will review the master’s findings.
Issue Four would expand legal gambling in Arkansas. It would authorize two new casinos - one in Jefferson County within two miles of Pine Bluff and another in Pope County within two miles of Russellville.
Issue Four, if approved by voters, also would authorize casinos adjacent to the dog racing track in West Memphis and adjacent to the horse racing track in Hot Springs. This ballot measure is being challenged in court.
The Supreme Court rejected two legal challenges to Issue Four, thus clearing the way for the measure to remain on the ballot.
Issue Five, the proposed initiated act, would raise the state minimum wage. It would go from $8.50 to $9.25 per hour in 2019, then to $10 per hour in 2020. Finally it would increase to $11 per hour in 2021. A special master has approved Issue Five for the November ballot, but the Supreme Court will review that ruling.
A proposal to increase the state’s minimum wage was on the ballot in 2014 and voters approved it by a vote of 66 percent to 34 percent. It phased in a minimum wage increase of $2.25 an hour, over a three-year period.