Lawmakers ask officials to address nameless legislative ballot measures

LITTLE ROCK — State lawmakers asked the attorney general and secretary of state’s office on Monday to figure out how to address a 2013 law that has made it unclear who writes the popular name for ballot measures referred to voters by the Legislature.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and Martha Adcock, attorney for the secretary of state’s office, were asked to report back to the Senate and House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committees at their next joint meeting on Jan. 23.

Act 1413 of 2013, which requires paid canvassers to be registered with the state and to undergo state-prescribed training, included a sort section that took the authority of writing popular names for ballot measures referred by the Legislature away from the attorney general’s office but did not stipulate who is required to write them.

Measure cannot appear before voters without a popular name, and the secretary of state’s office is required by law to make ballot measures available to the public six months before the Nov. 7 general election, which is May 7.

“We would like the legislation to say … this is how we would do it,” Adcock told the committee. “I think then you don’t have court challenges, or you are not subjecting yourself to that kind of a court challenge if you know you’re following statute in terms of how that popular name is supposed to be prepared.”

Prior to Act 1413, the attorney general designated the popular names of proposed constitutional amendments recommended by the Legislature if they were not already included in the legislation. None of the three legislative referrals approved in 2013 for this year’s general election included a popular name.

One would raise the threshold for signatures required before a group collecting signatures in support of a ballot initiative could qualify for a “cure” period to correct deficiencies. Another would allow the Legislature to require state agencies to submit proposed rules for legislative review and approval.

A third proposal would, among other things, ban corporate and union gifts to political campaigns and ban most gifts to public officials. It also would allow legislators to serve up to 16 years and increase the minimum period between when a legislator leaves office and becomes a lobbyist from one year to two years.

McDaniel told the committee his office helped draft the 20-page bill that became Act 1413 and was unaware of the section under review until about a month ago.

“I have to admit that none of us saw this wrinkle,” he said. “It’s embarrassing and I’m sorry … but here we are.”

Matthew Miller of the Bureau of Legislative Research told lawmakers there are options that could be considered. One would be to amend Act 1413 in the upcoming fiscal session to give the authority back to the attorney general’s office.

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, said he was not sure the referrals would be approved for consideration during the fiscal session that begins Feb. 10. Non-fiscal bills can only be considered during the budget session if they are recommended with a two-thirds majority.

Miller also said the Legislature could meet in a special session to amend the law, or the popular names could be drafted by the secretary of state, with assistance from the attorney general’s office.

Matt DeCample, spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe said calling a special session just to address the issue was “something that’s been on our radar at this point.”

McDaniel said his office has already drafted potential ballot names for the three referred measures. He and a spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin said the two offices were willing to work together between now and the Jan. 23 committee meeting.