LITTLE ROCK — A legislative committee on Friday endorsed 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.
House Joint Resolution 1009 by Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, was the only proposed amendment referred to the House by the Joint Committee on Constitutional Amendments, which considered only House resolutions on Friday. The panel plans to take up Senate resolutions at a later, unannounced date.
If approved by the House and Senate, HJR 1009 would be placed on the November 2014 general election ballot. The Legislature can refer up to three proposed constitutional amendments to voters during each regular session — or four if one would change salaries, but no such proposal was filed this session.
Sabin told the committee the measure originated with the group Regnat Populus, which tried last year to get an ethics reform proposal on the November ballot but could not gather the required number of signatures.
Regnat Populus’ proposal would ban gifts to elected officials, ban corporate and union contributions to political campaigns and increase the "cooling-off" period between when a lawmaker leaves office and is permitted to start lobbying from one year to two years.
Sabin said polls show the proposal has about 70 percent support and that the group will push to get it on the ballot next year unless the Legislature refers HJR 1009 to the ballot.
"To be frank, especially with regard to the gift ban, (Regnat Populus’ proposal) places some restrictions on our movements as legislators that just could be awfully cumbersome, because it is a very strict ban," he said. "I mean, literally a cup of coffee or a snack off of a tray or … a piece of candy, these are the things that could put you in jeopardy of being charged with a misdemeanor."
Sabin’s resolution retains the two-year cooling-off period and the ban on corporate and union contributions, but its gift ban is looser and includes a number of exceptions, including one for food and drink served at a planned activity to which a government body or identifiable group of public servants is invited.
Sabin also amended the bill Friday to include an exception for payments by regional or national organizations for travel to conventions where the presence of elected Arkansas officials is requested.
The resolution also would modify legislative term limits so that a member could serve a total of 16 years, with no restriction on how the years are divided between the House and Senate. Members now can serve no more than two-four year terms in the Senate and three two-year terms in the House.
The measure also would create an independent citizens’ commission to set the salaries of legislators, constitutional officers and judges.
"It’s kind of like a gumbo. It’s a mix of a lot of things, some of which you may like better than others, but I think together it’s palatable, not only to us here in the Legislature and other members of the government, but it’s palatable to the citizens who have brought these measures forward," Sabin said.
The committee endorsed the resolution in separate voice votes by House members and Senate members.