Today marks the first day of early voting. As a lawyer, I think I have a duty to discuss with my friends the meaning and implications of proposed changes to the law on the ballot.
The short version: NO on Issues 1 and 2; YES on Issues 3, 4, and 5.
Now for the long version. The legislature has the right to propose 3 constitutional amendments every 2 years, as follows:
Proposed Amendment No. 1 (referred by the Legislature):
Proposed Amendment No. 1 provides for review and approval by the Legislature of administrative rulemaking. I am voting no. I think legislative interference with administrative rulemaking takes power away from professionals and makes it part of the political process. This will further slow down the administrative process, which is already slow because it requires notice of proposed rulemaking by the legislative body that in turn permits public comment. Besides, if the Legislature doesn't like the way its laws are interpreted through administrative rulemaking, it means the law needs to be rewritten with greater clarity. I think this is a legislative power grab and, as such, is unwise. I voted no because there is no upside unless you're a legislator.
Proposed Amendment No. 2 (referred by the Legislature):
Proposed Amendment No. 2 sets additional limits on citizens who try to petition for constitutional or legislative amendments. Petitioning is the very first right reserved to the people in the Arkansas Constitution (see below for examples – 2 citizen proposals are on the ballot). It is the way the citizens propose new laws when they don't like what the government is doing. Here, the legislature is trying to limit citizens' access to government. Like Issue No. 1, I believe this is an unwise legislative power grab. I voted no.
Proposed Amendment No. 3 (referred by the Legislature):
Proposed Amendment No. 3 is really several issues in one. It contains much needed campaign finance reform, like prohibiting gifts from lobbyists and restricting legislators from becoming lobbyists for two years after elected service. It creates an independent commission to set salaries of elected constitutional officers (e.g., governor, legislators, secretary of state, judges, etc.). Finally, it extends term limits for the legislature. This amendment was a compromise between several different factions in the legislature. I voted yes because I think campaign finance reform was needed, and after speaking with legislators on both sides of the aisle, I think having legislators with additional institutional knowledge may be beneficial to the Legislature as a whole.
Proposed Amendment No. 4 (by petition of the people):
As indicated above, citizens have petitioned to get two issues on the ballot. The first is Proposed Amendment No. 4, a proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that repeals initiated acts from 1935 and 1942, which established the procedure for making counties wet or dry with respect to alcohol sales. According to USA Today, in 2009 Arkansas was dead last in clarity of alcohol laws. This amendment would eliminate dry counties altogether, but would maintain laws and regulations about alcohol sales and service (e.g., liquor stores at least 1000 feet from churches and schools). I voted yes, even though part of my practice involves helping counties make the transition from dry to wet.
Proposed Issue No. 5 (by petition of the people):
Proposed Issue No. 5 deals with the minimum wage. It will increase from $6.25/hour now to $8.50/hour in 2017. Like the alcohol issue, Arkansas lags behind the rest of the nation on minimum wage. I voted for it, because more money in the pockets of working Arkansans means fewer people on public assistance.
These are just my views. Even if you disagree, please go vote. It's the most important right we have as Americans.