Friday, April 12, 2013

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee chose three proposed constitutional amendments to refer to voters.  If the legislature agrees with the committee’s decision, the three will be on the 2014 general election ballot.
            One amendment, HJR 1009 would impose stricter ethical standards for public officials, to lessen the influence of special interest lobbyists.
It would prohibit contributions to political campaigns from corporations, and it would prohibit legislators from registering as lobbyists for at least two years after they leave office.
            If the amendment is approved by voters, public officials would not be able to accept gifts from lobbyists. 
The amendment would make slight changes in term limits for legislators.  Under the current term limits amendment, an individual is limited to three terms of two years each in the House of Representatives, and two terms of four years in the Senate.
            The amendment would allow an individual to serve a total of 16 years in the General Assembly.  Those 16 years could all be served in one chamber, or they could be served in a combination of both the Senate and the House.
            In addition, the amendment would create an independent commission to determine salaries of the legislature, judges and executive branch officials.
            A second proposed amendment adopted by the Senate, SJR 16, would tighten standards for organizations that try to place initiated acts and constitutional referendums on the ballot.
            Currently, organizations supporting a ballot initiative must submit a minimum number of signatures of registered voters four months prior to the November general election, i.e., a date in early July. 
Last year it took 62,507 signatures, which represented 8 percent of the number of votes cast in the most recent election for governor.
If signatures are invalidated, the groups can get an extension to collect more.  Under the amendment, the groups could get a 30-day extension but only if they had submitted 90 percent of the required number of signatures.
            This would prevent situations such as what happened last year.  A group in favor of a tax increase submitted petitions on which only 30 percent of the signatures were valid.
            The third constitutional amendment, SJR 7, would grant the legislature power to approve new rules and regulations proposed by state agencies.  Currently, legislators can review but they cannot overturn new rules with which they disagree.
            If voters approve SJR 7, no new rules put forth by executive branch agencies would take effect unless they had been approved by legislators, who answer to the voting public.
Election Laws
            Numerous changes to election laws have been filed this session.  Act 595, to require voters to have a photo ID, has garnered most of the attention.  Others include SB 719 to create a voter integrity unit within the Secretary of State’s office and SB 721 to end the terms of the state Board of Election Commissioners, effective July 1, and expand it from seven to nine members. The Senate approved both bills.
Both the Senate and House have approved HB 1737 to limit the size of a voting precinct to 3,000 registered voters.  The bill also requires that no later than 30 minutes after the polls close on election day, the county board of election commissioners shall report the initial count of early votes and absentee ballot votes to the Secretary of State.

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