LITTLE ROCK — The House on Tuesday approved a proposed constitutional amendment that combines ethics reforms, a change to legislative term limits and a new system for setting the salaries of legislators, constitutional officers and judges.
By a vote of 71-12, the House approved House Joint Resolution 1009 by Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock. If referred to voters and passed in the 2014 November general election, the measure would amend the state constitution to:
—Ban corporate and union contributions to political campaigns.
—Loosen term limits to allow legislators to serve up to 16 years, with no restriction on how they are divided between chambers and no restriction against serving them all in one chamber. Legislators are now limited to three two-year terms in the House and two four-year terms in the Senate.
—Increase the "cooling-off" period between when a lawmaker leaves office and is permitted to start lobbying from one year to two years.
—Create a seven-member citizens’ commission to set the salaries of legislators, constitutional officers and judges. Two members would be appointed by the governor, two by the Senate president pro tem, two by the House speaker and one by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
—Ban gifts to elected officials, with a number of exceptions. Food and drink served at a planned activity to which a government body or identifiable group of public servants is invited would be exempted, as would items that are available free to any member of the general public and travel expenses to attend conventions where the presence of Arkansas officials is requested. Travel to corporate junkets would not be exempted, Sabin said.
Sabin said some of the provisions, including the gift ban and the ban on corporate and union contributions, are in a proposal that the group Regnat Populus will try to get on the ballot in 2016 if HJR 1009 does not get on the 2014 ballot. He suggested that legislators would prefer HJR 1009 because its gift ban is "loosened up" compared to what Regnat Populus is proposing.
"There may be elements in this that you don’t like, but hopefully the end result is more appetizing than the alternative," said Sabin, a freshman legislator.
Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, asked Sabin if ex-legislators who served less than 16 years would be eligible to run for office again. Sabin said they would.
Rep. Randy Alexander, R-Fayetteville, asked whether the amendment would conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling that corporate funding of political candidates cannot be limited.
"There’s a severability clause in the amendment, which means that if any aspect or provision of the amendment is challenged in court and overturned, it won’t affect the rest of the amendment," Sabin said.
The House burst into applause after the resolution passed. The measure goes to the Senate.