LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas legislators received nearly a 150 percent pay raise in 2015, thanks to a panel created under a legislatively referred constitutional amendment that voters approved the previous year.

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas legislators received nearly a 150 percent pay raise in 2015, thanks to a panel created under a legislatively referred constitutional amendment that voters approved the previous year.


The amendment also extended legislators’ term limits and barred them from receiving gifts from lobbyists, with exceptions that have drawn criticism.


By a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, Arkansas voters in November 2014 approved Issue 3, which became Amendment 94 to the state constitution. Provisions in the amendment include:


—Creation of a seven-member commission charged with setting salaries for legislators, constitutional officers and judges. Lawmakers voted in the spring to add prosecuting attorneys’ salaries to the panel’s responsibilities. Previously, the elected officials’ salaries were set by the state constitution, which allowed the Legislature to make annual cost-of-living adjustments.


—Expansion of legislative term limits to allow a lawmaker to serve up to 16 years in the House or Senate. Previously, a legislator could serve up to four two-year terms in the House and up to two four-year terms in the Senate.


—Prohibition of legislators accepting gifts from lobbyists, including meals, but with an exception for food or drink available at a planned activity to which a specific governmental body is invited.


—Prohibition of ex-legislators becoming lobbyists less than two years after leaving office. Previously, the minimum waiting period was one year.


The Independent Citizens Commission — the members of which were appointed by the governor, legislative leaders and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court — voted 5-2 in March to approve a plan that raised legislators’ annual salaries from $15,869 to $39,400, a 148 percent increase. The House speaker and Senate president pro tem saw their pay raised from $17,771 to $45,000.


The panel approved the plan after legislators agreed to end office reimbursements, which had become the subject of criticism.


The panel also raised the annual pay of the governor to $141,000, up from $87,759; attorney general, $130,000, up from $73,132; secretary of state, $90,000, up from $54,848; and treasurer, auditor and land commissioner, $85,000, up from $54,848. The lieutenant governor’s salary remained at $42,315 because the position is considered part-time.


The commission raised the pay of the Supreme Court chief justice to $180,000, up from $161,601; Supreme Court justices, $166,500, up from $149,589; Court of Appeals chief judge, $164,000, up from $147,286; Court of Appeals judges, $161,500, up from 144,982; circuit judges, $160,000, up from $140,372; and district judges, $140,000, up from $125,495.


The amendment required a 30-day public-comment period on the commission’s plan before a final vote. About 90 percent of the comments the panel received were negative, but when some commissioners pointed this out and suggested changing the amounts, Commissioner Chuck Banks said the amendment provided no option for the commission to do anything but approve or disapprove its plan as a whole.


An audience member shouted, "Criminal!" but the panel proceeded to approve the plan 5-2.


The commission voted in May to raise prosecuting attorney’s annual salaries from $123,612 to $152,000.


Amendment 94’s provisions on term limits also have received criticism. In August, the ballot question committee Arkansas Term Limits received approval from Attorney General Leslie Rutledge for the wording of a proposed ballot measure to tighten term limits.


If placed on the ballot and approved by voters, the measure would amend the state constitution to allow state legislators to serve no more than three two-year terms in the House and no more than two four-year terms in the Senate, with a cap on total service of 10 years. Supporters must collect 84,859 signatures to place the measure on the November 2016 ballot.


Bob Porto, co-chairman of Arkansas Term Limits, said in June after the committee submitted the measure to the attorney general that Issue 3 was deceitfully sold to voters as ethics reform.


"The lawmakers knew clearly that what they needed to do was use deception in order to serve themselves and lengthen term limits," he said.


Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, who co-sponsored Issue 3 with Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, said in June that "the voters knew exactly what Issue 3 did."


Amendment 94 also has critics who say the ban on gifts from lobbyists to legislators is undermined by the exception for planned events. Such events, with food provided free to lawmakers, were common during the 2015 regular session.


"It’s a three-mile wide tunnel that they’re marching parades and floats down through every single day, three times a day, when the chow wagon comes in," Paul Spencer, chairman of the citizens’ group Regnat Populus, said in May.