Secretary of State Approves Language for 3 Arkansas Ballot Measures

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 11:05 am  

LITTLE ROCK - The secretary of state's office said Thursday it's cleared the way for three proposed constitutional amendments to appear on the November ballot, despite questions about who has the authority to prepare the measures' language under a new law.

Martha Adcock, general counsel for Secretary of State Mark Martin's office, told lawmakers that the office decided to use language provided by the attorney general's office and from legislation approved last year to prepare the proposals for the November ballot. A new law took away the attorney general's authority to prepare the measures' "popular names" that appear on the ballot.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel earlier this month told lawmakers that the secretary of state's office had that authority, but Adcock had said she wanted to research the law before deciding whether to prepare the ballot measure language. Adcock said there's a chance someone could challenge the secretary of state's actions, but getting the measures on the ballot outweighed those concerns.

"Anybody can sue," Adcock said. "This is no guarantee by us saying we're going to provide and use the attorney generals' popular name that somebody won't sue and say there's no authority for doing so."

The ballot measures referred by the Legislature include one that would ban most lobbyist gifts to elected officials and corporate campaign contributions, along with loosening the state's term limits restrictions. Another would give legislators the power to require legislative approval of state agency rules. A third would require at least 75 percent of signatures submitted by initiative campaigns to be verified as valid before they're given additional time to circulate petitions.

A group opposed to the term limits changes has said it believed allowing the secretary of state to prepare the language would invite a lawsuit. Another group that had dropped its ballot measure for ethics reforms after the Legislature referred its own is now considering restarting its petition drive because of the questions over the new law.

"It looks suspect to me," David Couch, co-chairman of Regnat Populus, said. "I don't think it's going to be an effective solution."

The secretary of state's office is required by law to begin publishing the popular names of the ballot measures the first week of May, which is six months before the November election.

A spokesman for McDaniel's office said it was still reviewing the secretary of state's solution for getting the measures on the ballot.

"We're just going to have to take it back to the office and review it and see if we're comfortable with the approach," spokesman Aaron Sadler said.

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