Tagarkansas

Stories about Arkansas

Arkansas voters to decide constitutional amendment in 2024 concerning grants and scholarships for vocational-technical schools

Arkansas voters will decide on a constitutional amendment in 2024 to allow the state’s lottery proceeds to be used to fund grants and scholarships for vocational-technical schools and technical institutes. The amendment was introduced as House Joint Resolution 1006 on February 7, 2023. It was passed in the House on April 4, 2023, by a vote of 97-0 with three members absent or not voting. The Senate passed the amendment on April 6, 2023, by a vote of 30-0 with five members absent or not voting.

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a simple majority vote was required in both the Arkansas State Senate and the Arkansas House of Representatives. The 2023 legislative session adjourned on April 7. The state legislature can refer up to three amendments to the 2024 ballot, meaning two more amendments could be considered and referred to voters when state lawmakers meet again during next year’s legislative session.

Arkansas is one of 45 states that have a state lottery. The state lottery was created through voter approval of Amendment 3, a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, in 2008. It was approved by a vote of 63% to 37%. At the time of the election, Arkansas was one of eight states that did not have a state lottery. Under the amendment, lottery proceeds were set to be used to fund scholarships and grants for students enrolled in “public and private non-profit two-year and four-year colleges and universities located within the state that are certified according to criteria established by the General Assembly.” The initiative was sponsored by Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter (D). The Arkansas AFL-CIO endorsed the 2008 amendment and helped collect signatures to qualify it for the ballot. Union president Alan Hughes said, “Our members feel this would help things a lot. They just want the same opportunity their counterparts have in other states, so their families have an opportunity to send their children to college.”

Opponents of the 2008 state lottery amendment included the Family Council of Arkansas, the United Methodist Church in Arkansas, and the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council.

Shane Broadway, vice president for university relations for the Arkansas State University System, said, “As we worked on developing the scholarship program, we were told by our attorneys we could not include state-owned vocational-technical schools because they were not included in the definition in the constitutional amendment.”

According to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, the lottery has raised more than $1.2 billion in proceeds benefiting college students since 2009.



Arkansas enacts law reducing length of unemployment insurance benefits

A new Arkansas law effective March 6, 2023, will limit the maximum length of unemployment insurance benefits from 16 weeks to 12 weeks starting Jan. 1, 2024. The bill passed with veto-proof majorities in both chambers (29-3 in the Senate and 79-15 in the House).

The law will also reduce the new employer unemployment insurance tax rate from 2.9% to 1.9% in 2024 and reduce the solvency surtax—an additional fee intended to ensure stable reserves in the state unemployment trust fund—from 0.2% to 0.1% by fiscal year 2025.

Unemployment insurance is a joint federal and state program that provides temporary monetary benefits to eligible laid-off workers who are actively seeking new employment. Qualifying individuals receive unemployment compensation as a percentage of their lost wages in the form of weekly cash benefits while they search for new employment.

The federal government oversees the general administration of state unemployment insurance programs. The states control the specific features of their unemployment insurance programs, such as eligibility requirements and length of benefits.

For information about unemployment insurance programs across the country, click here.

Additional reading:



Arkansas increases the signature distribution requirement for citizen-initiated ballot measures

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) signed House Bill 1419 (HB 1419), which increases the signature distribution requirement for citizen-initiated ballot measures, on March 7. Under HB 1419, campaigns will be required to collect signatures from 50 of 75 (67%) counties. Previously, the requirement was 15 of 75 (20%) counties. For citizen-initiated state statutes, the signature requirement is equal to 4% of the votes cast for governor in each of at least 50 of 75 counties. For citizen-initiated constitutional amendments, the requirement is equal to 5% of the votes cast for governor in these counties.

In the House, HB 1419 was approved 79 to 19. In the Senate, the legislation was approved 21 to 8. Senate Republicans and 79 House Republicans voted to pass HB 1419, while legislative Democrats, along with two House Republicans, voted against the change. 

State Sen. Jim Dotson (R-34), a co-sponsor of the bill, said,  “The purpose of this would be to ensure that we’re getting representation from all across the state, not just large urban areas but rural counties as well, and having a lot of input into the process.” State Sen. Greg Leding (D-30), an opponent, stated, “The voters have made it absolutely clear that they do not want the Legislature making it harder for them to get things on the ballot, and I think we should listen to them.”

State Sen. Bryan King (D-28) and the League of Women Voters of Arkansas sued Secretary of State John Thurston (R), asking the 6th Judicial Circuit Court to rule HB 1419 unconstitutional. Plaintiffs noted that Article V of the Arkansas Constitution provides for the 15-of-75 counties requirement, while HB 1419 is a statute. According to the plaintiffs, this means that HB 1419 is effectively modifying the state constitution, which a bill cannot do. Amending the constitution would require voter ratification.

Of the 26 states that allow for state initiatives or referendums, Arkansas is one of 16 with a signature distribution requirement. The other 10 states do not have distribution requirements.

As of March 15, two other bills related to ballot measures have been signed into law in Arkansas during the 2023 legislative session. HB 1027 required voter approval for a county government to enact a new or increase an existing local sales tax. Under HB 1027, a simple majority vote of the electorate is required for the tax to take effect. HB 1320 required initiative sponsors to submit drafts to the Arkansas Attorney General, rather than the Board of Election Commissioners. Under HB 1320, the attorney general is responsible for approving, rejecting, or substituting the ballot title and popular name for each initiative within 10 days of receiving a draft.



Arkansas school board requires students to use bathroom consistent with sex assigned at birth

The school board for the Conway School District in Arkansas on October 11, 2022, unanimously approved policies regarding gender identity in public schools. 

One of the policies requires that students use the restroom that matches their sex assigned at birth, though each district school must provide an accommodation to any individual who does not want to comply with the policy. The other policy passed mandates that students traveling on overnight trips for extracurricular activities, field trips, interscholastic activities, or intrascholastic activities be assigned to hotel rooms based on their sex assigned at birth. 

In support of the policy, state Senator Jason Rapert (R) attended the school board meeting and said, “For the first time in my entire representation in the Arkansas Senate have I ever felt led to come and speak at a school board meeting. I am proud of the school board members.”

Linda Tyler, a parent in the school district, opposed the board members’ decision. “It makes me feel sad because I personally know many transgender young women and young men, and I know the difficulty of their journey,” according to local news outlet THV11.

Additional links:

https://ballotpedia.org/Conway_School_District,_Arkansas

https://ballotpedia.org/Jason_Rapert

Reference links:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1eEEX9tiCF6lsg6lsySy7SExArku5JE7v/view

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1eHiEn9cPJ7q1zK3wz6hIiP-ZMm1BbFmV/view

https://www.thv11.com/article/news/education/conway-school-board-transgender-bathroom-use/91-8846f49c-4607-4718-8861-b6a9830582f7

https://katv.com/news/local/conway-school-board-approve-policies-limits-bathroom-access-and-overnight-trips-on-gender



All candidates for Arkansas House of Representatives District 10 complete Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey

Both of the candidates running in the November 8, 2022, general election for Arkansas House of Representatives District 10 — Kate Schaffer (D) and Mindy McAlindon (R) — completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. These survey responses allow voters to hear directly from candidates about what motivates them to run for office. 

Eighty-eight of the country’s 99 state legislative chambers will hold regularly scheduled elections in 2022. The Republican party controls both chambers of Arkansas’ state legislature. Arkansas is one of 23 states with a Republican trifecta.

Here are excerpts from candidates’ responses to the question: What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?            

Schaffer:       

  • “I care about the value of Arkansas’ creative economy, investing in more art and technology at all levels of education—Pre K through Higher Ed—means keeping our kids in our home state.”
  • “I support the state doing its part to boost Public/private partnerships to solve our workforce development, transportation and affordable housing hurdles.”
  • “I’ll fight for quality and affordable early childhood education through Pre K and head start programs. I support the RAISE Act, we must pay teachers more.”

McAlindon:   

  • “Lower Taxes will help families thrive and lead to economic opportunities.”
  • “School Choice will help families make the best educational decisions for each child. It will also help all schools improve.”
  • “Economic Development will help Arkansas utilize its many resources and become the best it can be.”

Click on the candidates’ profile pages below to read their full responses to this and other questions.

We ask all federal, state, and local candidates with profiles on Ballotpedia to complete a survey and share what motivates them on political and personal levels. Ask the candidates in your area to fill out the survey.

Additional reading:



All candidates for Arkansas State Senate District 35 complete Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey

Both of the candidates running in the November 8, 2022, general election for Arkansas State Senate District 35— Tyler Dees (R) and Doug Peterson (L) — completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. These survey responses allow voters to hear directly from candidates about what motivates them to run for office. 

Eighty-eight of the country’s 99 state legislative chambers will hold regularly scheduled elections in 2022. The Republican Party controls both chambers of Arkansas’s state legislature. Arkansas is one of 23 states with a Republican trifecta government.

Here are excerpts from candidates’ responses to the question: What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?            

Dees:           

“Limiting government overreach and mandates, reducing taxes, responsible budget management, defending the unborn through pro-life standards, Increasing parental voices for protection of their children and celebrating the many success of the people in our district.”

Peterson:                   

“Personal property tax is an unfair, inefficient burden on the people and business interests of Arkansas. It is unjustly biased against rural residents and small business owners. We enacted a Constitutional amendment in 1992 to exempt furniture and other specific personal use items, but left in place taxes on things like lawn mowers and backyard chickens.”

Click on candidates’ profile pages below to read their full responses to this and other questions.

We ask all federal, state, and local candidates with profiles on Ballotpedia to complete a survey and share what motivates them on political and personal levels. Ask the candidates in your area to fill out the survey.

Additional reading:

Arkansas State Senate elections, 2022



Votes for Arkansas marijuana legalization initiative will be counted

Votes for Arkansas Issue 4, a marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot, will be counted after the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners’ decision to not certify the initiative’s ballot title.

Responsible Growth Arkansas, the campaign behind the marijuana legalization initiative, submitted more than 190,000 signatures on July 8. The Arkansas secretary of state announced on July 29 that the campaign had submitted more than the required number of valid signatures (89,151) and qualified for the ballot.

On Aug. 3, 2022, the election commissioners declined to certify the ballot title and popular name for the initiative, stating that the language was misleading. The next day, Responsible Growth Arkansas filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court. The campaign said the board “[thwarted] the will of the people and their right to adopt laws by initiative.” The campaign requested an expedited review because the deadline for the secretary of state to certify measures for the 2022 ballot was August 25. On August 11, the state Supreme Court ordered the secretary of state to certify the measure for the ballot.

Under Issue 4, adults 21 years old and older would be authorized to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Adults could possess up to one ounce of marijuana. By March 7, 2023, businesses that already hold licenses under the state’s medical marijuana program would be authorized to sell adult-use marijuana at their existing dispensaries and one additional location for adult-use marijuana sales only. By July 5, 2023, an additional 40 licenses would be given to businesses chosen by a lottery and would need to be located at least five miles away from a dispensary with an active license. The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division of the Department of Finance and Administration would regulate the program and provide for licensing.

Responsible Growth Arkansas has raised $4.01 million according to campaign finance reports covering information through August 31. The campaign said Issue 4 would “[support] law enforcement salaries and bolster local police budgets so that our officers can go after serious crime,” “[improve] the Arkansas’ existing medical marijuana program by removing burdensome taxes that are currently being paid by qualified patients receiving medical treatment,” and “safely legalize the sale of cannabis to adults 21 and older and create revenue that goes to more funding for local police departments.”

Safe and Secure Communities registered to oppose the initiative and has raised $2 million. Safe and Secure Communities said, “We’re on a mission to save Arkansas from the destructive effects of legalized drugs, and we need your support. Many cities around the nation are destroyed, and now Arkansas is at risk. Help keep Arkansas communities secure and our citizens safe. The pot industry is directly targeting kids, even though hundreds of scientific studies show that marijuana – especially today’s high-potency weed – permanently damages the teenage brain. Teens who smoke pot regularly drop out at twice the rate of non-users, and as adults they earn less and have a lower IQ. Marijuana-related policy changes, including legalization, have significant unintended consequences for children, adolescents, and cities large and small.”

Marijuana legalization measures are certified to appear on the 2022 ballot in Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Currently, 19 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the possession and personal use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Eleven states and D.C. had legalized marijuana through the ballot initiative process. A marijuana legalization initiative targeting the 2022 ballot in Oklahoma was ordered to appear on the 2024 ballot after legal challenges were not resolved before state deadlines to print ballots.



Five measures that would change the initiative process are on the ballot in 2022

In November, there are a total of five measures on the ballot related to the initiative process. A ballot initiative is a way that citizens can propose, amend, or repeal a state law or constitutional provision by collecting signatures from registered voters. Successful signature drives result in an initiative being placed on the ballot for voters to approve or reject. Twenty-six states have an initiative process at the state level, and each state has different rules and requirements regarding the ballot initiative process, including majority and supermajority requirements, single-subject rules, and requirements for measures that increase taxes.

Five measures regarding the initiative process are on the ballot for the November 8, 2022 general election. One measure was on the ballot in June. This November, the states with ballot measures regarding the initiative process are Arizona (3 measures), Arkansas (1 measure), and Colorado (1 measure). 

Last June, voters rejected a measure in South Dakota called Amendment C by 67-32%. Amendment C would have changed the vote requirement from a simple majority to a 60% majority for ballot measures that increase taxes or require the state to appropriate $10 million or more in the first five fiscal years.

In November, voters will decide on five measures regarding the initiative process in Arizona, Arkansas, and Colorado:

  • Arkansas Issue 2: Amends the Arkansas Constitution to require a 60% vote of approval from voters to adopt constitutional amendments (legislatively referred and citizen-initiated) and citizen-initiated state statutes.
  • Arizona Proposition 128: Amends the Arizona Constitution to allow the Arizona State Legislature to amend or repeal voter-approved ballot initiatives if any portion has been declared unconstitutional or illegal by the Arizona Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Arizona Proposition 129: Amends the Arizona Constitution to require that citizen-initiated ballot measures embrace a single subject.
  • Arizona Proposition 132: Amends the Arizona Constitution to require a 60% vote for voters to pass ballot measures to approve taxes.
  • Colorado Proposition GG: Requires the ballot titles and fiscal impact summaries for initiatives that affect income taxes to include information on how the change would affect income taxes for different categories of income.

Between 2010 and June 2022, there were 20 measures regarding the initiative process on the ballot. Voters approved 11 (55%) of them, while nine (45%) were rejected.

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Arkansas marijuana legalization initiative to appear on November ballot; votes may not be counted pending state supreme court ruling

On Aug. 11, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered the Secretary of State to certify a marijuana legalization initiative for the election on Nov. 8. Votes on the initiative may not be counted pending a court ruling on the initiative’s ballot language.

Responsible Growth Arkansas, the campaign behind the marijuana legalization initiative, submitted more than 190,000 signatures on July 8. The Arkansas secretary of state announced on July 29 that the campaign had submitted more than the required number of valid signatures (89,151) and would qualify for the ballot if the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners certified the ballot language.

On Aug. 3, 2022, the election commissioners declined to certify the ballot title and popular names for the initiative, stating that the language was misleading. The next day, Responsible Growth Arkansas filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court. The campaign said the board “[thwarted] the will of the people and their right to adopt laws by initiative.” The campaign requested an expedited review because the deadline for the secretary of state to certify measures for the 2022 ballot is August 25. On August 11, the state Supreme Court ordered the secretary of state to certify the measure for the ballot. Votes on the initiative may not be counted, however, if the supreme court rules that the ballot language is misleading. Case briefs were scheduled to be filed with the court through September 2, 2022.

The measure would legalize marijuana use for individuals 21 years of age and older and authorize the commercial sale of marijuana with a 10% sales tax. Adults could possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Under the amendment, businesses that already hold licenses under the state’s medical marijuana program would be authorized to sell marijuana for personal use. An additional 40 licenses would be given to businesses chosen by a lottery. The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division of the Department of Finance and Administration would regulate the program and provide for cannabis business licensing.

Marijuana legalization measures are certified to appear on the 2022 ballot in Maryland, Missouri, and South Dakota. Marijuana legalization measures could also appear on the ballot in Oklahoma and North Dakota. Currently, 19 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the possession and personal use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Eleven states and D.C. had legalized marijuana through the ballot initiative process.

Since 2012, the Arkansas Supreme Court has invalidated nine citizen-initiated measures that had been certified for the ballot. In 2020, three citizen-initiated measures were certified for the ballot. Two were later blocked from appearing on the ballot. One appeared on the ballot, but votes for the measure were not counted or certified. In 2018, a citizen initiative was blocked from appearing on the ballot after having been certified. In 2016, three initiatives appeared on the ballot, but votes on the measures were not counted or certified. In 2012, two initiatives appeared on the ballot, but votes were not counted or certified.

From 2012 to 2018, six citizen initiatives appeared on the ballot and had votes counted and results certified. Of the six measures, four were approved (66.67%) and two (33.33%) were defeated.



Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners declines to certify ballot language for initiatives to legalize marijuana and repeal Pope County’s casino authorization

On August 3, the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners declined to certify the ballot titles and popular names for two initiatives that had submitted signatures. Fair Play for Arkansas 2022 said they were considering their options to challenge the board’s decision. Responsible Growth Arkansas said they planned to challenge the board’s decision with the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Responsible Growth Arkansas, the campaign behind the marijuana legalization initiative, submitted more than 190,000 signatures on July 8, 2022. The Arkansas Secretary of State announced on July 29 that the campaign had submitted more than the required number of valid signatures (89,151) and would qualify for the ballot if the Board of Election Commissioners certified the ballot language.

The measure would legalize marijuana use for individuals 21 years of age and older and authorize the commercial sale of marijuana with a 10% sales tax. Adults could possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Under the amendment, businesses that already hold licenses under the state’s medical marijuana program would be authorized to sell marijuana for personal use. An additional 40 licenses would be given to businesses chosen by a lottery. The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division of the Department of Finance and Administration would regulate the program and provide for cannabis business licensing.

Currently, 19 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the possession and personal use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Eleven states and D.C. had legalized marijuana through the ballot initiative process.

Fair Play for Arkansas 2022 reported submitting 103,096 signatures for an initiative to repeal the casino authorization for Pope County. In 2018, voters approved Issue 4 authorizing the county to grant a casino license for one casino. Under Issue 4, the Pope County license required applicants to pay fees to apply, demonstrate experience in conducting casino gaming, or furnish a letter of support from the county judge. The Pope County license was awarded to the Cherokee Nation.

In Arkansas, a total of 44 ballot measures appeared on the statewide ballot between 2000 and 2020. Thirty-two (72.73%) ballot measures were approved, and 12 (27.27%) ballot measures were defeated.