LITTLE ROCK — A House committee Monday advanced a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it more difficult to place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot and more difficult to pass them.
The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to House Joint Resolution 1003 by House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia. The measure goes to the House.
Presenting the bill in the committee for Gillam, Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, said, “The policy reason behind this is to try to create a stable, consistent constitution.”
Among other things, HJR 1003 would:
— Require that a proposed constitutional amendment receive at least 60 percent of the votes cast in an election for approval instead of a simple majority.
— Require at least a two-thirds vote in both chambers for a proposed constitutional amendment to be referred to the ballot, instead of a simple majority.
— Increase from 15 to 25 the minimum number of counties from which petitions must be submitted for a citizen-initiated proposed constitutional amendment.
— Require that signatures in support of a citizen-initiated proposed constitutional amendment be submitted at least 180 days before election day.
— Create a process for the Legislature to refer up to three proposed laws to the ballot during a regular session in an odd-numbered year. The Legislature already has the ability to refer up to three constitutional amendments to the ballot in a regular session.
— Require that a challenge to the ballot title of a proposed constitutional amendment be filed no later than 60 days after the filing of signatures in support of the measure.
— Require that a challenge to the signatures submitted in support of a proposed constitutional amendment be made no later 30 days after the secretary of state certifies the signatures.
— Require that the ballot title of a legislatively referred proposed constitutional amendment be intelligent, honest and impartial. If the attorney general says in an opinion that a ballot title is not sufficient, the title will go back to lawmakers to make changes.
— Prohibit a constitutional amendment from granting rights or privileges to an individual or corporation specified by name.
So far this session, lawmakers have referred two proposals to the November 2018 ballot: one to require voters to show photo identification at the polls, and one to limit damages and attorneys’ fees in civil lawsuits and give the Legislature power to repeal, amend and create court rules.
Jerry Cox, president of the Christian conservative Family Council, which has proposed several constitutional amendments over the years, testified against the bill, saying the process of placing a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot is already difficult and he would not support anything that makes it harder.
Rep. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, said he found the multi-part proposal difficult to understand and said he doubted voters would undertsand it either.