LITTLE ROCK — Secretary of State Mark Martin certified five ballot initiatives for the November general election Thursday, including a measure to legalize marijuana for medical use and a pair of casino gambling proposals that could be decided by judges rather than voters.
Two proposed constitutional amendments referred by the Legislature will go before voters, one for a half-cent sales tax increase to finance a $1.8 billion highway bond issue and another to allow local governments to form redevelopment districts and issue bonds for capital projects within those districts which would be repaid from increased sales tax revenue.
Martin’s office certified the proposals for the ballot not long after Nancy Todd petitioned the state Supreme Court to overturn Martin’s declaration that the title of her proposal to authorize casino gambling in four Arkansas counties is legally insufficient.
A separate proposed constitutional change to allow Texas businessman Michael Wasserman to operate casinos in seven counties is already before the high court. Oral arguments are set for Sept. 6 on Wasserman’s lawsuit challenging Martin’s ruling that his supporters failed to collect the required percentage of signatures in enough counties to qualify for the ballot.
State law provides that ballot proposals that are tied up in court when measures are certified may be cleared for the ballot. Votes for those proposals will not be counted if they are ultimately disqualified by the court.
Martin declared Todd’s proposal legally insufficient Wednesday, the same day her supporters turned in more than 120,000 additional signatures in an attempt to meet the requirement of 78,133 valid signatures of registered voters to qualify for the ballot. Backers turned in more than 80,000 signatures a month ago but 56,000 of them were invalidated.
In Todd’s petition to the Supreme Court on Thursday, Todd noted that Attorney General Dustin McDaniel certified the sufficiency of the popular name and ballot titled of her proposed amendment before supporters began gathering signatures.
The measure was later challenged by Stop Casinos Now, a group backed by the parent company of Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis. Martin, on advice from McDaniel, declared the measure insufficient on grounds that the title did not adequately convey to voters that Todd’s proposal would repeal a 2006 law that opened the door for casino-style electronic games of skill at Southland and at Oaklawn Park thoroughbred track in Hot Springs.
Last week, Todd submitted an amended the title. Martin again declared it invalid Wednesday, saying that the new language stating that the measure "may" repeal the Electronic Games of Skill Act was insufficient.
Todd’s court petition said the challenge to her proposal, which came after signatures were submitted, "intrudes on the rights of petitioners and the people" under Amendment 7, which authorizes citizen ballot initiatives. It said Martin’s actions in response to the challenge "impermissibly and unconstitutionally restrict, hamper or impair the exercise of the rights … reserved to the people" under Amendment 7.
It asked the court to compel the secretary of state’s office to certify the proposal for the ballot.
"I want the Supreme Court to hear it, declare the title to be sufficient and that the voice of the 200,000 people be counted and let the people have an opportunity to vote on this," Todd said Thursday.
Martin spokesman Alex Reed said the office would not comment until the filing had been reviewed. He said the signature verification process would continue.
The secretary of state announced Wednesday that supporters of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act had reached the required 62,507 valid signatures required for the ballot. Members of Arkansans for Compassionate Care fell just over 26,000 signatures short of the certification threshold in its first submission July 6. The group submitted more than 74,000 additional signatures on Aug. 13.
The proposed initiated act would allow up to 30 medical marijuana dispensaries in the state but would give cities and counties the option of banning them. The marijuana would only be available to people with prescriptions for certain health conditions, including chronic pain, glaucoma, Hepatitis C and those who are terminally ill.
The proposal would allow limited cultivation of marijuana by a qualifying patient, or the patient’s designated caregiver, if the patient lives more than five miles from a dispensary.