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Group pushes effort to kill initiative to extend legislative terms


LITTLE ROCK — Stepping up its efforts to kill a measure to give state legislators more time in office, a national term limits group is surveying lawmakers to gauge their understanding of the proposal they referred to the 2014 ballot.

U.S. Term Limits said Wednesday it has sent a survey to all members of the Legislature who voted for placing House Joint Resolution 1009 before voters in next year’s November general election. Among other things, the proposal would allow legislators a total of 16 years in office, instead of the current 14-year limit approved by voters in 1992.

The query asks if the lawmakers intended to vote for HJR 1009, if they would vote the same today and if they believe the proposed constitutional amendment should be pulled from the ballot for proper vetting.

Last month, the group sent letters to all state legislators asking them to undo the decision to send the measure to the ballot.

At least one lawmaker, Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, said he did not remember voting for such a measure and that he would favor pulling it back.

The measure’s lead sponsor, Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, said Wednesday the proposal was thoroughly discussed in committees and on the floor in each chamber. At no time did U.S. Term Limits communicate with the sponsors or take part in the legislative process, he said.

“I do have some concerns that this outside interest group is coming in and misrepresenting what happened here in Arkansas and trying to manipulate the process to try to achieve their particular ends … after the fact,” Sabin said.

HJR 1009 would do a variety of other things, including banning legislators and constitutional officers from accepting gifts from lobbyists; banning corporate contributions to political candidates; establishing a commission to set salaries for legislators, constitutional officers and judges; and extending the cooling-off period between a legislator leaving office and becoming a lobbyist from one year to two.

Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, the measure’s Senate sponsor, said the legislative terms provision was an effort to counter the influence of lobbyists and bureaucrats by making it possible for legislators to gain more experience and knowledge in one chamber or the other — not to throw out term limits.

“It’s fine the way it is. Everyone I’ve talked to understands,” Woods said. “They need to focus their efforts in other areas and let Arkansans address this issue.”

Voters in 1992 approved Amendment 73, which U.S. Term Limits supported, limiting legislators to three two-year terms in the House and two four-year terms in the Senate — for a maximum total of 14 years. HJR 1009 would allow 16 years total, whether serving in one chamber or both.