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Judge invalidates 2013 changes to petition laws

Yesterday, a Circuit Judge in Pulaski County invalidated changes made in Act 1413 of 2013 to the Arkansas laws about petition drives. As I reported here when the lawsuit was filed, two individuals representing groups filing petitions in 2012 challenged the law as unconstitutional and unclear. Circuit Judge Mary Spencer McGowan agreed, stating:

The effect of the new provisions, especially the sections which fail to define the use of the words, disability, anything of value, material defect, etc., will mean that the citizens of the State of Arkansas will lose their ability to propose legislative measures and laws directly to the people.

While the goals of stamping out fraud, forgery and false statements are laudatory, and appear to have been met in 2012 by the Secretary of State, the effects of Act 1413 are crushing to the citizens who wish to bring their issues directly to the people. The effects of Act 1413 seem to impact the citizens rather than the special interests who always seem to have the money to further their goals.

Judge McGowan went on to enjoin the Secretary of State from enforcing certain sections of Act 1413 applicable to statewide petition drives. This is good news for Arkansans, as it preserves the right to freely petition the government. However, the Attorney General and Secretary of State have said they will appeal Judge McGowan's ruling. Most appeals take at least several months.

A hurdle remains, however, for citizens working on local option elections. A separate act, Act 1432 of 2013, passed laws creating the exact same burdens on local option elections as Act 1413 did for statewide initiatives. This initiative has yet to be challenged in Court. Whether the Arkansas Supreme Court sides with Judge McGowan will likely determine the outcome for Act 1432 as well. Those interested in local option elections will be watching.