On April 2, the Arkansas legislature passed a constitutional amendment that would impose term limits of twelve consecutive years for state legislators with the opportunity to return after a four-year break. The 12-year limit would apply to anyone elected in 2021 or after.
The amendment’s House sponsor, Sen. Jim Dotson (R-93), said, “The purpose of term limits is to limit power and advantages of incumbency. So if you have an incumbent who is running against someone who is not an incumbent, they obviously have a built-in advantage. After this resolution — if it is adopted and approved by the voters — is passed, after 12 years someone loses that advantage of incumbency.”
Rep. Vivian Flowers (D-17) asked House sponsor Rep. Dotson, “Those members who are currently serving would get to operate under the current law and serve 16 years — up to 16 years — while everyone else in the state would have to be limited to 12 years, thereby giving us in this chamber right now a definitive advantage over everybody else in the state?”
As of 2019, Arkansas legislators can serve up to 16 years throughout their lifetimes in the House or Senate. Those who were first elected to the legislature before 2021 would keep the state’s current lifetime term limit of 16 years.
The current term limits for state legislators were established by the passage of Issue 3 in 2014, which doubled the amount of time a lawmaker can stay in the Arkansas Senate and more than doubled the amount of time a lawmaker can stay in the House. Issue 3 in 2014 was referred to the ballot by the state legislature. Previously, representatives could serve up to three two-year terms, while senators could serve up to two four-year terms, as set by the 1992 citizen initiative, Issue 4.
Also targeting the 2020 ballot is a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment filed by the Arkansas Term Limits Ballot Question Committee (BQC) on March 14, 2019. The measure is identical to the group’s 2018 initiative, Issue 3, which was initially certified for the ballot but later blocked by the state Supreme Court based on arguments about the validity of signatures on the initiative petition. To qualify for the 2020 ballot, the group must submit 89,151 valid signatures by July 3, 2020. This initiative would impose term limits of six years for members of the Arkansas House of Representatives and eight years for members of the Arkansas Senate. Specifically, the measure would allow representatives to be elected to no more than three two-year terms and senators to be elected to no more than two four-year terms. Under the measure, no member of the state general assembly could serve more than 10 years in total.
The Arkansas State Legislature may refer up to three constitutional amendments to the ballot each general election. So far, two amendments have been certified for the 2020 ballot, including the term limits measure. Also appearing on the 2020 general election ballot is an amendment to continue and make permanent a 0.5 percent sales tax with revenue directed to state and local transportation, including highways, roads, and bridges.