LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday struck ballot issues on medical lawsuits and casinos from the Nov. 8 ballot and upheld a ballot issue to legalize medical marijuana.
The decisions were announced in four separate opinions, all unanimous.
In two opinions, the state’s top court sided with two groups that challenged Issue 4, which would amend the state constitution to direct the Legislature to set a cap no lower than $250,000 on non-economic damages, such as damages for pain and suffering, in medical suits and would cap lawyers’ contingency fees in medical-injury suits at one-third of the amount recovered.
Fairness for Arkansans, a group created by the Arkansas Bar Association, alleged that the ballot title of Issue 4 is misleading and incomplete because, among other things, it does not define the term “non-economic damages.” The Supreme Court said it agreed on that point and therefore did not need to consider the group’s other points.
“Without a definition of this term, the voter would be in the position of guessing as to the effect his or her vote would have unless he or she is an expert in the legal field,” the court said in an opinion written by Justice Paul Danielson.
The Committee to Protect AR Families alleged in a separate suit that the ballot title of Issue 4 is misleading and incomplete and that supporters did not follow at state laws governing the use of paid canvassers. The Supreme Court said Thursday it was ruling in the committee’s favor for the same reason that it ruled in favor of Fairness for Arkansans.
No votes cast for Issue 4 are to be counted, the court said.
Chase Dugger, executive director of Health Care Access for Arkansans, said in a statement Thursday, “With the will of the people behind us wanting better health care, we will continue the fight for tort reform. Until then, doctors and hospitals will continue working in fear of trial attorneys seeking to line their pockets with limitless medical malpractice lawsuits that drive up health care costs.”
The Supreme Court sided with the group Protect Arkansas Values — Stop Casinos Now in its challenge to Issue 5, which would amend the state constitution to allow one casino each to operate in Washington, Boone and Miller counties.
The opposing group alleged that the ballot title for Issue 5 was misleading and incomplete and that the proposal would violate federal law and the U.S. Constitution.
One of the group’s allegations was that the ballot title states that the types of gambling allowed at the casinos would include any type of gambling allowed in Nevada, but in fact sports gambling, which is legal in Nevada, is prohibited in Arkansas under the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
The Supreme Court said Thursday it agreed with that point and therefore did not need to consider the opponents’ other points. No votes cast for Issue 5 are to be counted, the court said.
Robert Coon, spokesman for Arkansas Wins in 2016, the group sponsoring Issue 5, said Thursday, “Our campaign is disappointed in the court’s decision today. Most importantly, it’s a shame that the voters of Arkansas, including the more than 100,000 that signed our petitions, are being denied opportunity to vote on an amendment that would create thousands of jobs and more than $120 million in new tax revenue for the state and local communities.”
Chuck Lange, chairman of Protect Arkansas Values — Stop Casinos Now, said in a statement Thursday the group was pleased with the ruling.
Lange said the Missouri businessmen behind the proposal “wrote into the amendment the specific names of their companies in a brazen attempt to monopolize gaming expansion in Arkansas. And, they attempted to deceive Arkansas voters into believing that sports betting would be legal in Arkansas, and that caused this amendment to be rejected by the court.”
The Supreme Court rejected a suit by the group Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana alleging that the ballot title of Issue 6, which would legalize medical marijuana through a constitutional amendment, is misleading and incomplete because it does not describe some of the effects the measure would have.
The court said the suit was similar in many ways to a suit by the same group that the court rejected last month. That suit challenged Issue 7, which would legalize medical marijuana through an initiated act.
In its earlier ruling, the court said “it is not necessary that a ballot title include every possible consequence or impact of a proposed measure.” It reiterated that point Thursday in rejecting the challenge to Issue 6.
Little Rock lawyer David Couch, the sponsor of Issue 6, said Thursday he was “excited that the people can vote on this important issue” and “ready to begin educating the people about the importance of medical marijuana to sick people and the tremendous economic benefits that this will have for the state at no cost to the taxpayers.”
Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council Action Committee, which is part of Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana, said in a statement Thursday, “The Arkansas Supreme Court has made a very poor decision. This proposal brings recreational marijuana to Arkansas. It is a flawed measure that hurts Arkansans.”
A suit by Little Rock Lawyer Kara Benca challenging Issue 7 is still before the Supreme Court.