UACES Facebook Proposal Stumbles over Legal Jargon
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Proposal Stumbles over Legal Jargon

by Kristin Higgins - February 16, 2018

Arkansas Ballot Issue Newsletter Graphic

At just under 20 words long, a proposed ballot title meant to provide a path to suing the state of Arkansas was rejected because of the undefined legal jargon included in the proposal.

"Sovereign immunity" was not defined in the ballot title of a proposed constitutional amendment submitted to the Attorney General's Office by Alex Gray, legal counsel for a Committee to Restore Arkansans' Rights. 

Gray submitted the one-sentence proposal last month after an Arkansas Supreme Court opinion that left unanswered whether state agencies could be sued for anything. The proposed amendment sought to resolve the issue by authorizing legislators to pass laws that included circumstances where the public could sue the state. 

"I believe most voters will be unfamiliar with the term "sovereign immunity" as it appears in the ballot title, because it is a legal term of art. Most voters will not know that the doctrine of sovereign immunity means that a state cannot be used in its own courts," Attorney General Leslie Rutledge wrote in an opinion rejecting the proposal's wording. "Likewise, most voters will not appreciate that authorizing the General Assembly to waive sovereign immunity means giving the legislature the ability to enact statutes that allow people and entities to sue the State in state court for money damages and other forms of relief."

Rutledge said the group's ballot title should briefly explain the matter to voters so they can make a "reasoned decision" in the voting booth. Gray expects to submit a revised version for review.

Groups seeking a spot on the November ballot for their constitutional amendments are running out of time to get their petition's wording approved by the Attorney General, who has the responsibility of signing off on the wording of ballot issues before the first voter signature can be collected. June 6 is the deadline for a ballot issue group to advertise the full wording of their ballot issue in a newspaper before the November election. 

Currently, only one group has been approved to collect voter signatures. More than 84,000 signatures are needed to qualify a constitutional amendment for a spot on the ballot. Signatures are due to the Secretary of State's Office by July 6 with the final ballot to be declared August 23.

Voters in November will decide the fate of two constitutional amendments proposed by the legislature, SJR8 and HJR1016.

Read the rest of our February ballot issue education newsletter

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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