LITTLE ROCK — A proposal to cap lawmakers’ total time in the Arkansas Legislature to 10 years was approved for the November ballot on Friday, sending voters a measure that if approved would impose the strictest legislative term limits in the country.
The secretary of state’s office said supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment submitted 93,998 valid signatures from registered voters, clearing the nearly 85,000 that were needed to qualify for the November ballot. Arkansas Term Limits, the group behind the proposal, submitted more than 124,000 signatures last month.
The measure would limit Arkansas lawmakers to two four-year terms in the Senate and three two-year terms in the House, with a total cap of 10 years in office. A 2014 voter-approved measure loosened Arkansas’ term limits and allowed lawmakers a total of 16 years in the House, Senate or a combination of both. Under Arkansas’ current limits, some lawmakers can be in office longer than 16 years if they serve partial terms due to redistricting or a special election.
“If eight years is good enough for the president of the United States, the leader of the free world and a guy with, I don’t know, a million employees and a gazillion dollar budget, 10 years is probably ok for legislators in Arkansas,” said Tom Steele, chairman of Arkansas Term Limits.
Arkansas is among 15 states that limit how long state legislators can serve in office. Oklahoma and California currently have the strictest term limits, restricting legislators to a total of 12 years in their legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Arkansas’ current term limits were approved by voters in 2014 through a measure the majority-Republican Legislature put on the ballot. Previously, lawmakers were limited to two terms in the Senate and three in the House. Supporters of the new limits say the Legislature misled voters by including the 16-year cap on a measure that was intended to focus on ethics and campaign finance reforms.
This year’s proposal also would prohibit the Legislature from putting any more term limit changes on the ballot.
Top Arkansas lawmakers have said the limits would put the legislative branch at a disadvantage, with legislators forced to leave office quickly after gaining experience.
“I think it would hurt the ability of the legislature to be effective and would also weaken the ability of the legislature to act effectively on behalf of the citizens,” House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, a Republican, said.