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AG Rejects Tort Measure

by Kristin Higgins - July 18, 2017

Ballot Issue Newsletter header

A proposed ballot measure that would compete with one submitted to voters by the Legislature was rejected this month after its popular name was deemed partisan.
The proposed constitutional amendment is similar to one members of the Arkansas Bar Association declined to support last month after a close vote. Scott Trotter, a Little Rock attorney who wrote the measure considered by the association, revised the proposal and submitted the new version on his own.  
Among other things, the multi-pronged proposal seeks to: 
  • Create new campaign spending rules
  • Remove legislative authority over rules created by the Arkansas Ethics Commission
  • Prevent individual legislators from directing where appropriated funds are spent
  • Increase the legislative thresh hold for overriding a governor's veto
  • Limit how the legislature can affect court rules
  • Prohibit legislators from setting limits on how much money can be awarded in lawsuits 
  • Prohibit legislators from setting limits on how much attorneys are paid
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge rejected Trotter's proposal Friday, July 14, saying the proposed ballot issue's popular name was misleading and partisan. 
"Your proposed popular name refers to the measure as an amendment "preserving the right of juries to set damages." Although the amount of a damages award rests largely within the Jury's discretion, Arkansas courts have inherent power to reduce jury awards," the attorney general wrote in Opinion 2017-078. "It is therefore misleading, and potentially partisan, to suggest that juries have an absolute "right ... to set damages" and that your amendment, if adopted, will preserve such a right."
Rutledge cited several other phrases in the proposal's popular name as being misleading and partisan or vague. She also said sections of the ballot title were ambiguous. 
Trotter has revised the measure based on the attorney general's comments and plans to resubmit it soon.
"I do disagree with the substance of the attorney general's opinion," Trotter said. However, he revised his proposal based on her critiques. 
"You have to step back and think about it and reword things and see if you can get it approved" while addressing what supporters originally wanted to ask voters to consider, he said. 
A portion of Trotter's proposal would compete with an issue already on the November 2018 ballot. SJR8 seeks to establish limits on how much money can be awarded in some types of lawsuits and would give legislators with the authority to set court rules. 
Legislators referred the constitutional amendment to voters in the last legislative session. Ballot titles from the legislature are not reviewed by the attorney general as ones from the public are.
Only after the title and name are approved can supporters collect signatures from voters to put the issue on the ballot. Constitutional amendments require more than 84,000 voter signatures and initiated acts require more than 67,000 signatures. 
As of July, only one group has approval from the attorney general to collect signatures for a potential 2018 ballot measure. It involves term limits. The deadline for citizen-led proposals is not until next summer. 
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The Public Policy Center has published nonpartisan fact sheets on Arkansas' statewide ballot issues since 2004. We welcome your questions at Follow us on Facebook and Twitter