Home Part of States Newsroom
News
Arkansas lawmakers approve resolutions opposing proposed constitutional amendments

Share

Arkansas lawmakers approve resolutions opposing proposed constitutional amendments

Jun 18, 2024 | 7:17 pm ET
By Antoinette Grajeda
Share
Arkansas lawmakers approve resolutions opposing proposed constitutional amendments
Description
Rep. Brit McKenzie, R-Rogers, takes notes at the Arkansas Capitol on June 18, 2024, while people speak against a resolution he sponsored that opposes an education ballot initiative. (Mary Hennigan/Arkansas Advocate)

In split decisions Tuesday, an Arkansas House committee approved two resolutions opposing proposed constitutional amendments targeting abortion access and education. The measures’ supporters decried lawmakers’ actions as interfering with the direct democracy process. 

“It breaks my heart that we’re here now and trying to push citizens of Arkansas to vote against something because you all don’t agree with it,” said Barry Jefferson, NAACP Arkansas State Conference president. “We have a problem in our country right now. Instead of letting voters vote and letting voters make the decision, we try to force it down their throats by giving false information. That is painful.”

Barry Jefferson, president of the Arkansas branch of the NAACP
Barry Jefferson, president of the Arkansas branch of the NAACP, speaks against a resolution that would oppose an education ballot initiative on June 18, 2024 at the state Capitol. (Mary Hennigan/Arkansas Advocate)

Jefferson was one of seven people to speak against House Resolution 1006, which urges voters to oppose the “misleadingly titled” Educational Rights Amendment of 2024. Jefferson is also president of For AR Kids, the ballot question committee backing the amendment, which aims to hold private schools receiving state funding to the same standards as public schools. 

Although the resolutions are nonbinding and neither ballot initiative has yet qualified for the November ballot, Rep. Brit McKenzie, R-Rogers, said he filed HR 1006 to give “a sense of the House.” McKenzie told the House Management Committee Tuesday that while he opposes the ballot measure, he does not oppose Arkansans’ right to collect signatures to amend the state constitution.

“That is a tool in the toolbox, and I do not begrudge anybody for exercising that right,” he said. “What I do have an issue with is those who exercise it under the false pretenses or guise of something being a solution when in reality it would create more problems.”

In addition to creating equitable standards for private and public schools, the proposed constitutional amendment would also guarantee voluntary universal access to pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds, after-school and summer programming, quality special education and assistance for children in families within 200% of the Federal Poverty Line ($62,400 for a family of four).

McKenzie said he’s concerned that the measure’s supporters have not provided information about what these new programs would cost or how they would be paid for. For AR Kids representatives said they have a team of economists working on an estimate, which will be provided ahead of the election.

The proposed education amendment stems from the creation of the Educational Freedom Account program through the LEARNS Act, a 2023 law that makes sweeping changes to the state’s education system. The school voucher program allows state funding to be used for allowable education expenses, including private school tuition. It is being phased in over three school years; this coming year is the second one.

Critics argue the program is unfair because private schools receiving state funding don’t have to follow the same requirements as their public counterparts, such as admitting all students, providing transportation and administering certain standardized tests.

The LEARNS Act does require private schools to administer approved annual exams for EFA students.

“Why this is truly misleading is because we’re expanding rights at the cost of choice,” McKenzie. “We have expanded choice significantly with the LEARNS Act, and I think it’s important that we stay the course, that we do what’s right for the students in the state of Arkansas and give them the ability to find the education that’s best fit for them, their learning environments and their families.”

Supporters of the education amendment pushed back on the resolution’s assertions that the measure would infringe on religious liberty and “jeopardize teacher pay raises.” Stand Up Arkansas founder Steve Grappe also rebutted the assertion that the measure is misleading because the Arkansas Attorney General approved the ballot title as not misleading in March

“But yet the General Assembly is going to try to tell the people not to vote for this and use misleading statements all through their resolution to try to get it passed,” Grappe said. “I call on the people of Arkansas to wake up, to stand up, to see the things that our General Assembly is trying to push down our throat that we’re not for.”

Publication of abortion amendment canvasser list is intimidation, ballot question committee says

The House Management Committee on Tuesday also heard limited debate on House Resolution 1003, which encourages Arkansans to vote against the proposed Arkansas Abortion Amendment. The resolution is supported by 48 House Republicans, including lead sponsor Rep. Ryan Rose of Fort Smith. 

“I believe and many others do as well that this amendment would legalize abortion on demand up to five months,” Rose said. “It goes against the values of the majority of Arkansans, which they hold dear, and prioritizing the sanctity of life from conception.”

Arkansans for Limited Government, the ballot question committee backing the amendment, issued a statement Tuesday calling HR1003 “a clear attempt by lawmakers to weaponize private, intimate healthcare decisions that should be left between patients and their doctors.”

“The extremists in the Arkansas legislature, once again, have proved that they are uncaring, untruthful, and undemocratic,” the statement reads. “…This Resolution misleads the public about the contents of the Arkansas Abortion Amendment and interferes in Arkansas’s constitutionally protected democratic process.”

Abortion has been illegal in Arkansas, except to save the pregnant person’s life, since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022. 

If the proposed amendment qualifies for the ballot and is approved by voters, it would not allow government entities to “prohibit, penalize, delay or restrict abortion services within 18 weeks of fertilization.” 

The proposal would also permit abortion services in cases of rape, incest, a fatal fetal anomaly or to “protect the pregnant female’s life or physical health,” and it would nullify any of the state’s existing “provisions of the Constitution, statutes and common law” that conflict with it.

“The sponsors of this Resolution know that the Arkansas Abortion Amendment will pass,” AFLG’s statement reads. “They have decided that lying to the public is their best chance at stopping it. Reasonable Arkansans can see through this politicking.”

Supporters of both the abortion and education measures must collect 90,704 signatures by July 5 to qualify the November ballot.