FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — There are four individual initiatives on the Arkansas statewide ballot next week, and the Public Policy Center at the University of Arkansas has released a 2022 Voter Guide that outlines each measure in detail, but also presents them clearly enough to be easily understood. Here is a look at each of them:

ISSUE #1 would give state senators and representatives authority to call special legislative sessions. Key points of the issue include:

  • Allow General Assembly to convene in “extraordinary session”
  • Would require joint written proclamation of the Speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate.
  • Or the submission of signatures of ⅔ of members of the House and ⅔ of members of the state Senate.

Arkansas is one of 14 states where only the governor has the power to call a special meeting of state lawmakers. In the other 36, both the governor and legislature can call a special session.

One factor in making a decision about this issue is the potential added cost, including per diem and travel payments that would be made to 135 Arkansas lawmakers while meeting at the state capitol.

A seven-member Independent Citizen Committee of Arkansas sets the annual salary, per diem and travel reimbursement rates for legislators.  In October 2021, the committee opted to follow federal rates for per diem (meals and lodging) and mileage.

The state paid legislators $3.1 million in per diem, travel and other expenses in 2021, and that period included the regular session plus two short special sessions that lasted three days each.

A FOR vote means you are in favor of changing the Arkansas Constitution to allow state legislators to call themselves into special session and to set the agenda for those sessions. An AGAINST vote means you want that power to remain only with the Governor.

If approved, the measure would take effect on November 9.

ISSUE #2 would require 60% voter approval for state constitutional amendments and citizen-proposed state laws. Key points of the issue include:

  • Currently, a majority of votes are required for statewide ballot issues to pass and go into effect. This percentage is frequently described as a “50% plus one vote” or a simple majority. 
  • Requirements for citizen-sponsored referendums, which ask voters to decide the fate of existing laws, would remain unchanged and be decided by a simple majority of voters.
  • The state constitution dates back to 1874 and there are currently 102 amendments to the original document.
  • Arkansas voters rejected several attempts in the last century to pass a newer state constitution, leaving the amendment process as the only way to make changes or updates.
  • Ballot issues passed in the last 20 years with less than 60% of voter approval include medical marijuana, casino gaming in four locations and changes to legislative term limits.

A FOR vote means you are in favor of changing the Arkansas constitution to increase the percentage of votes required to pass constitutional amendments and citizen-proposed state laws from a majority of the votes cast on the measure to 60% of the votes cast. 

An AGAINST vote means you are not in favor of changing the Arkansas constitution to increase the percentage of votes required to pass constitutional amendments and citizen-proposed state laws.

If approved, the measure would take effect on January 1, 2023.

ISSUE #3 is called the Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment. The proposal would add language to the state constitution that:

  • Prohibits state and local governments from burdening the practice of religion in Arkansas unless the government shows there’s a compelling reason to do so and acts in the least restrictive way.
  • Provides a legal claim in a court or other governmental proceeding for a person to seek relief against the government for imposing on their religious freedom.

Arkansans have not voted on any constitutional measures regarding religious freedom since 1874. This amendment would apply to current and future government laws, rules, regulations, ordinances, administrative provisions and rulings, guidelines and other requirements.

Opponents of the amendment say it is “vague and overbroad,” and that it “sets up the potential for abuse of other people by persons claiming ‘free expression’ or ‘free exercise’ of religion.”

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. The 14th Amendment also extends the protections in the First Amendment to the state and local level.

A FOR vote means you are in favor of adding an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that prohibits state and local governments from burdening a person’s practice of religion unless there’s a compelling reason to do so.

An AGAINST vote means you are not in favor of adding an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that would prohibit state and local governments from burdening a person’s practice of religion unless there’s a compelling reason to do so.

If approved, the measure would take effect on November 9, the day after the election.

ISSUE #4 would legalize adult recreational cannabis use in the state. Some key components of the measure are as follows:

  • The amendment would give existing medical marijuana growers and sellers licenses to grow and sell adult-use or non-medical marijuana.
  • It would authorize 12 additional cultivation licenses and 40 dispensary licenses for adult use marijuana.
  • The measure would eliminate an existing sales tax on medical marijuana and introduce a sales tax on adult use marijuana.
  • It would eliminate a cap on how much THC can be in medical marijuana-infused drinks and food portions.
  • Lawmakers would have no authority to change the amendment without another vote of the people.
  • The amendment would make the possession of one ounce of marijuana for nonmedical personal use legal under Arkansas state law for adults, while recognizing that the drug remains illegal under federal law.
  • It would also allow medical marijuana cardholders to purchase nonmedical marijuana without that amount counting toward how much they can purchase for medical purposes.
  • Owners of eight existing medical marijuana cultivation facilities would be granted a second license to grow marijuana for non-medical sales. These facilities do not have a limit on the number of plants they can grow at any time.
  • The state would issue 12 additional marijuana cultivation licenses for growing non-medical marijuana. Cultivators that receive these new licenses could not grow more than 250 plants at one time and could not sell their product for medical marijuana use. The licenses would be issued via a lottery system.
  • The existing 40 medical marijuana dispensaries would receive a license to sell marijuana for non-medical uses at their current location starting March 8, 2023.
  • Dispensaries would be allowed to possess, make, deliver or sell items such as pipes, bongs, rolling papers, roach clips and other items that were previously prohibited for them to sell.
  • Sales tax proceeds from non-medical marijuana sales be used for: paying law enforcement stipends every year, supporting the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, funding drug court programs and contributing to state general funds.

For facilities and dispensaries, the amendment would also repeal Arkansas residency requirements for owners, would no longer require criminal background checks on people who own less than 5% of a business and would prohibit the businesses from operating within a certain distance of a facility for individuals with developmental disabilities.

There is also specific language regarding concerns such as transportation and distribution and zoning laws.

A FOR vote means you are in favor of changing the Arkansas Constitution to authorize the growing and selling of marijuana for non-medical purposes.

An AGAINST vote means you are not in favor of changing the Arkansas Constitution to authorize the growing and selling of marijuana for adult use or non-medical purposes, or changing the related rules and regulations currently in place. Medical marijuana would continue to be legal as specified under state law.

If approved, the measure would take effect on March 8, 2023.

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