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November 2018 Ballot Issues

Betty Stafford compiled a list of issues we will see on the upcoming ballot.

The issues are laid out below.

Issue 1—Civil Lawsuits or “Tort Reform” and Changing Rule-Making by the Courts

Proposed Constitutional Amendment from the Legislature

Note 1—Opponents and supporters that spend money to campaign are required to register with the Arkansas Ethics Commission as a ballot or legislative question Committee—applies to all ballot issues.

Note 2—over  $1.5 million each has been raised by both supporters and opponents for Issue 1 advertising.

Note 3— Joining changes in civil lawsuits with changes in judicial rule-making authority is the basis of a circuit court decision by Judge Mackie Pierce in Pulaski Co. to strike Issue 1 from the ballot (as an “illegal amalgamation of change to the Arkansas Constitution”).  Judge Pierce’s decision is on appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Definition—A “tort” is either an omission or an act that harms or injures another person—a civil wrong.  The tort system requires that victims receive full compensation (money) for proved harm from those responsible or at fault—medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of income during recovery, loss of future income, and loss of one or more body parts.  33 states currently have some form of tort legislation.

Issue 1 would—

  • Limit non-economic damages to $500,000 (damages not measured in monetary terms, e.g., pain & suffering, mental & emotional distress, loss of life or companionship)
  • Limit punitive damages for personal injury, property damage, or wrongful death to the greater of $500,000 or three times compensatory damages (These compensatory damages include medical treatment, loss of income, loss of property, willful disregard for the health & safety of others, legal fees.)
  • Cap attorneys’ contingency fees at 1/3 of “net” recovery (not defined)
  • Allow the Legislature to reduce, but not increase, the size of punitive and non-economic awards in the future
  • Allow the Legislature to amend and repeal or create the state Supreme Court’s rules of pleading, practice, or procedure with a 3/5 vote—gives the Legislature final rule-making authority over the courts, a reduction of power given in the Constitution’s judicial amendment
  • Lower the voting percentage necessary for the Legislature to change a court rule established by the Supreme Court from 2/3 to 60% as it relates to the Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts, District Courts, and “referees, masters, and magistrates.”

Supporters

  • Majority of the Arkansas Legislature
  • Arkansans for Job and Justice Committee—Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, Carl Vogelpohl
  • Arkansas Medical Society
  • Arkansas Health Care Society (nursing homes)
  • Arkansas Hospital Association
  • Arkansas Trucking Association

Reasons to Vote for Issue 1

  • Awards are overly generous and many times frivolous
  • Will bring 23,000 jobs to Arkansas by eliminating overhead under the current liability system
  • Will lower health care costs
  • Will protect hospitals and nursing homes
  • Will bring more physicians into the State as Arkansas competes with neighboring states
  • (No reasons have been advanced by supporters for changing court rules and procedures)

Opponents

  • Protect AR Families
  • Defending Your Day in Court (Annabelle Imber Tuck, former Arkansas Supreme Court justice)
  • Arkansas Family Council Action Committee
  • American & Arkansas Bar Association and most trial attorneys
  • Arkansas NAACP
  • AARP-Arkansas
  • Arkansas Democrat Gazette
  • Arkansas Times
  • Liberty Defense Network
  • Candidates for Governor—Jared Henderson (D), and Mark West (Lib)

Reasons to Vote Against Issue 1

Sections 1 & 2—

  • damage caps set an arbitrary value on human life and devalue the lives of vulnerable people with no income (children, the elderly, patients in nursing homes or other medical settings, & stay-at-home parents), who receive  little compensation for pain & suffering, whereas a successful business person whose earnings can be calculated into the future may receive millions. Is the loss of an arm or a leg worth $500,000; how about two arms/two legs/severe brain injury?  One size doesn’t fit all.
  • makes it harder to find an attorney willing to take a case on contingency and therefore interferes with the right of citizens to hire an attorney of their choice, to “freely contract”
  • conflicts with biblical principles of justice and helping the poor
  • judges already have the power to dismiss frivolous lawsuits

Section 3—

  • undermines the separation of powers by shifting key judicial responsibilities to the Legislature
  • empowers corrupt influencers of the system by giving them power to make the rules for court procedures and what can be admitted as evidence, and therefore places the most vulnerable at risk
  • hands judicial procedure and oversight to the Legislature, which is struggling to enact meaningful ethics reform as its members face record corruption charges—“the fox overseeing the hen house.”

Issue 3—Term Limits

Proposed Constitutional Amendment through Initiative

 

Note—A suit was filed September 5, 2018, before the Arkansas Supreme Court by Arkansans for Common Sense Term Limits (Arkansas Farm Bureau and the state Chamber of Commerce—Randy Zook) to disqualify Issue 3 from the November ballot, challenging signatures and the ballot title.  Former judge Mark Hewitt, special master assigned to the case, agreed that insufficient signatures had been submitted.  The issue is now before the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Issue 3 would limit Arkansas lawmakers to serve the following terms—

  • State representatives to three 2-year terms (6 years total)
  • State senators to two 4-year terms (8 years total)
  • All lawmakers to a maximum of 10 years in the legislature

Amendment 94 to the AR Constitution (2014), currently in effect, permits legislative service up to 16 years (House, Senate, or a combination of both).

Supporters

  • U.S. Term Limits Committee (Melbourne, FL, and Washington, DC); has spent $475,000+ as of 8/16/18
  • Arkansas Term Limits Committee
  • Family Council Action Committee
  • Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Reasons to Support Issue 3

  • strict term limits should be effective at all levels of government
  • fresh faces with fresh ideas should be elected
  • reduces lobbyist interests
  • outsider candidates blocked by incumbents could serve

Opponents

  • Arkansans for Common Sense Term Limits/Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, Randy Zook
  • State Sen. Jonathan Desmang (R-Searcy) + others
  • State Sen. Will Bond (D-Little Rock) + others
  • Annabelle Imber Tuck, retired justice, Arkansas Supreme Court

Reasons to Oppose Issue 3

  • we have term limits already—every time a legislator comes up for re-election
  • such short terms of office as proposed would leave limited institutional memory among state lawmakers, who would be forced to learn quickly (e.g., state budget, education policy, the public employee retirement program) and rely even more on legislative staff and bureaucrats, who are not term limited
  • at least 80 of 100 House seats (in 2020), and 30 of 35 Senate seats (in 2022), would be occupied by a new legislator
  • lobbyists with particular agendas would have an accelerated time to influence legislators
  • the ballot title is incomplete and doesn’t make clear to voters that the proposal would also repeal the Legislature’s ability to put any future term limit changes on the ballot
  • these term limits would be the strictest in the nation
  • this campaign is led by out-of-state interests
  • people say “we want to run government like a business.” Find a great business that changes their accountants or their fiscal people every time they get essentially one year of experience under their belt.
  • lame ducks will be looking beyond their terms and be less responsive to constituents; changes their legislative behavior
  • Arkansas is among only 15 states that limit how long state legislators can serve in office

Issue 4—Casinos

Proposed Constitutional Amendment through Initiative

Note—On Thursday, October 11, 2018, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that Issue 4’s popular name and title are intelligible, fair, and impartial. Issue 4 will appear on the November ballot and its votes will be counted.

Issue 4 would allow the State Racing Commission to issue casino licenses (permitting actual cards, dice, and roulette wheels as well as sports betting) to

  1. an applicant in Jefferson Co within 2 miles of Pine Bluff
  2. an applicant in Pope Co within 2 miles of Russellville
  3. Southland Racing Corp at or adjacent to Southland Gaming & Racing in West Memphis
  4. Oaklawn Jockey Club at or adjacent to Oaklawn Racing & Gaming in Hot Springs
  5. If voters in Crittenden, Garland, Jefferson, and/or Pope counties reject Issue 4, and if the Issue passes statewide, the casinos would be allowed to operate in these counties regardless.

Issue 4 requires that Licensees in Jefferson & Pope Counties—

  1. pay an application fee
  2. demonstrate experience in casino gambling (Quapaw tribal officials are interested in this license in Jefferson Co., while Cherokee Nation Businesses is interested in Pope County.)
  3. submit a letter of support from the County Judge or a resolution from the County Quorum Court, or if in a city, a letter of support from that mayor.  However, Pope County voters will vote November 6th on a proposed initiative that would bar the County Judge or the Quorum Court from supporting a casino there without a local election granting that authority—initiative sponsored by Citizens for a Better Pope County (see #5 above)
  4. Russellville City Council approved a resolution objecting to Issue 4 because it fails to provide an option for residents of any city in Pope County to have a special election on casino gambling in the county

Allocation of Receipts

  1. Net receipts subject to a tax of 13% on the first $150 million; 20% tax above that amount
  2. 55% of tax receipts go to state general revenue; 17.5% to the state Racing Commission for purses for live horse and greyhound racing.
  3. 8% of receipts go to the county in which the casino is located; 19.5% goes to city/town in which the casino sits, or to the county if the casino is not in a city/town.

Supporters

  • Driving Arkansas Forward committee and Arkansas Jobs Coalition—Nate Steele, counsel; Don Tilton, chair & lobbyist for the Quapaw tribe.
  • Quapaw and Cherokee Indian tribes (have contributed more than $2.4 million to the campaign)
  • It’s Our Turn Committee, Robert McClarty & Audrey Lockhart, chairpersons

Reasons to Support Issue 4

  • better roads and lower taxes
  • benefits general Arkansas economy—providing jobs and “keeping gambling dollars in Arkansas rather than going to neighboring states”; 30% of AR residents regularly visit casinos outside the state
  • “state’s best opportunity to create a transparent and equitable gaming structure free from all the pitfalls and drawbacks of casino measures in the past”—Nate Steele
  • sponsors estimate raising the following for general local & state purposes per year
  • $66 million/year in state general revenue
  • $33 million a year for the cities/counties where the casinos are located
  • $25 million a year for purse support at Oakland & Southland
  • gives Pine Bluff a “boost up”

Opponents

  • Family Council Action Committee, Jerry Cox
  • Ensuring Arkansas’ Future Committee, Steve Trotter/Derick Easter/Steve Copley
  • Citizens for Local Choice, Jim Knight (Russellville) (also known as Citizens for a Better Pope County)
  • Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
  • Arkansas Times
  • Mark West, Libertarian candidate for governor
  • Several legislators have questioned revenue projections—Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis; Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs

Reasons to Oppose Issue 4

  • revenues will be placed with the Legislature, not with the Highway Dept; no guarantee of roadway improvements (“best roads in the State will be those leading to the casinos”); roads in Louisiana and Mississippi are not “better” as a result of casino gambling
  • casino corporations from other states will be given an “exclusive and perpetual” monopolies on casino gambling in Arkansas at a tax rate well below existing privilege fees
  • effects of casinos on public revenue are complex and little understood by voters and legislators (2011 study)
  • fleeces the poor and contributes significantly to divorce and bankruptcy
  • increases the level of problem gambling with only insignificant funds (minimum of $200,000) set aside for gambling  addiction treatment
  • casinos will operate all day, any day, with alcohol served during any hour that gambling takes place, whether the casino is in a wet or dry county

Issue 5—Minimum Wage Increase

Proposed Initiated Act

 

Note—On 9/6/18, the Arkansas Supreme Court appointed Judge Sam Bird as special master to hold hearings on a legal challenge to Issue 5 filed by Randy Zook, AR State Chamber of Commerce (invalid signatures).  Judge Bird determined on 9/24/18 that the Initiative had more than enough valid signatures.  Zook has appealed Bird’s decision to the AR Supreme Court.   Arkansans for a Fair Wage will intervene in this case.

Issue 5 would raise the Arkansas minimum wage in businesses hiring more than 4 workers according to the following schedule—

Jan 1, 2019     $  9.25/hr        ($19,240 per year)
2020                  $10.00/hr        ($20,800 per year)
2021                  $11.00/hr       ($22,880 per year)

Exempt from these increases are farm workers and jobs where gratuities/tips are earned.

The current minimum wage in Arkansas is $8.50/hr         (x 40 hrs/wk x 52 wks = $17,680)

The current Federal Minimum Wage = $7.25/hr

In January 2019 Wal-Mart will raise its starting wage to $11/hr; in November 2018, Amazon will raise its minimum wage to $15/hr.

Supporters

  • Arkansans for a Fair Wage, attorney David Couch
  • Out-of-State non-profit organizations in Washington DC—Sixteen Thirty Fund/Fairness Project/
  • National Employment Law Project (have raised over $500,000 for this campaign)
  • Arkansas NAACP
  • Jared Henderson, Dem candidate for Governor; Mike Lee, Dem candidate for Attorney General; Clarke Tucker, Dem candidate for District 2 Rep

Reasons to Support Issue 5

  • helps families cover basic needs; 1 in 4 children in Arkansas do not know where their next meal will come from
  • money goes right back into the local communities and Arkansas’ economy
  • 70,000 job have been added since the wage increase to $8.50 in 2014
  • no statistical evidence of a drop in employment in states that have already raised the minimum wage
  • lower employee turnover means reduced hiring/training costs, lower error and accident rates, increased productivity, and better customer service
  • no one working full time should live in poverty; wages have not kept up with the cost of housing and groceries
  • less reliance on government or taxpayer-funded programs

Opponents

  • Arkansans for a Strong Economy, Randy Zook—CEO Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce
  • Arkansas Hospitality Association;  Arkansas Oil Marketers Association
  • Arkansas Democrat Gazette
  • Governor Asa Hutchison (R); Lt. Governor Tim Griffin (R)
  • Rick Crawford (R-District 1 Repr); French Hill (R-District 2 Repr); Bruce Westerman (R-District 4 Repr)
  • Mark West, Libertarian candidate for Governor; Frank Gilbert, Libertarian candidate for Lt. Governor

Reasons to Oppose Issue 5

  • hurts Arkansas’ economy and is a job killer; throws minimum wage earner out of a job or reduces their hours
  • makes Arkansas more unfriendly to business and therefore less competitive, especially in an environment where we don’t know what future economic conditions will be increases prices
  • Arkansas’ current minimum wage is higher than any surrounding state (although a similar initiative is on the Missouri ballot)
  • only California, Washington state, Washington DC, and Massachusetts have a current minimum wage at least as high as Arkansas’ will be in 2021

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