No one was more in favor of term limits for legislators than I was when the state passed them in 1992. Like most Arkansans (60 percent voted yes), I was weary of the old bulls who stuck around the House and Senate for a quarter of a century helping themselves and their pals and doing little to modernize Arkansas.
Unfortunately, we adopted term-limits that were too limited — the shortest in the United States. Six years in the House and eight in the Senate in a legislature that only meets every two years doesn’t turn out effective lawmakers. We wound up with 28- year- old speakers of the House. The short terms attracted people who wanted to try something new down here in Little Rock rather than to help the state. The sessions, which used to last 70 days, now average more than 88 days, mainly because lawmakers spend their time on silly hometown ideas.
However, term limits have helped some. In 10 years before term limits there were only 45 Republicans elected to the 135 seats in the legislature. In the last 10 years 110 Republicans were elected. According to a study by Professor Art English at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, there was only one woman in the Senate for 20 years, and there have been seven since term limits.
Amendment 1 on the ballot Tuesday will keep term limits but lengthen the terms to 12 years for both representatives and senators. This is the law in most of the 15 other term-limit states. Vote for Amendment 1. It’s a good compromise.
I’ve written before about Amendments 2 and 3.
No. 2 would give Arkansas the same tool that other states on our borders have to bring big industries into their states. The amendment would allow the legislature to issue bonds to help pay for land, roads, railroad spurs, site preparation and other purposes for a big company to come to Arkansas. The legislature could do this only for a company that (1) will spend $500 million in Arkansas and (2) hire at least 500 people with good salaries.
Every state around us has an automobile factory, but we’ll never get one — or anything like it — until we can offer what other states do. Vote yes for more jobs.
Amendment 3 is a mean, un-American law that says all our people are no longer to be treated equal. It flies in the face of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that says: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” Amendment 3, which is primarily the work of evangelical and nondenominational Protestant churches, would prohibit the marriage of two persons of the same sex. Last month the U.S. House of Representatives voted down a similar amendment.
The Arkansas amendment, however, is much stricter. It would also forbid civil unions or domestic partnerships for homosexuals in this state, and if it passes it could mean that spouses of employees in same-sex marriages would not be eligible for health insurance, family leave, property sharing, etc. that companies offer to employees. Forty percent of Fortune magazine’s 500 biggest companies give those benefits to same-sex spouses, but they could be in jeopardy if Amendment 3 passes and they come to Arkansas.
Two Arkansas Supreme Court justices, Ray Thornton and Jim Hannah, tried to keep the amendment off the ballot, saying it was “misleading, redundant and unintelligible.” In 2003, a Gallup poll asked if same-sex married couples should have the same legal rights as other people, and 62 percent of Americans agreed. I hope most Arkansans vote no on Amendment 3.
Referred Question 1 was put on the ballot by the legislature to raise the minimum tax to operate our schools. Right now it is 25 mills of the value of your house, and this act would raise it to 28 mills. However, remember the homestead exemption credit of 2001 that allowed everyone to reduce their property tax by $300. Homeowners in Pulaski County and in others who are already paying more than 28 mills won’t be affected at all.
Who could be against an increase, the first one in eight years? Well, people who have no kids in school, parents who pay big money for their kids to go to private schools and the editorial writers on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette who say they oppose it because it “makes us nervous.”
What makes most people nervous is that our Supreme Court has ruled that Arkansas schools are “inadequate, inequitable and unconstitutional.” Vote for Referred Question 1.