- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A Pulaski County judge has issued an order temporarily barring Secretary of State Mark Martin from enforcing new requirements on groups that gather signatures for proposed ballot measures.

Judge Mary McGowan ruled Tuesday that the 2013 law, which was passed after thousands of invalid signatures were submitted for proposals the previous year, was illegally vague and she granted an injunction stopping enforcement of the measure until the case goes to trial. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Arkansas Public Law Center.

“To establish new requirements which are unclear and not properly defined restricts, hampers and impairs the exercise of the rights reserved to the people of the State of Arkansas,” McGowan wrote in her order.

The Legislature passed the law after more than two-thirds of the signatures submitted for two 2012 ballot proposals - a casino-legalization amendment and an increase in the state’s severance tax on natural gas - were invalid. Backers of the new restrictions said they were needed to prevent fraud by paid signature gatherers, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported (https://bit.ly/1ctPevy ).

But the lawsuit argued that the new requirements infringe on First Amendment rights of individuals working to propose laws via the petition and referendum process.

Attorney David Couch, representing the ACLU, said Tuesday that the state already has good laws to protect the integrity of the petition process.

“The previous law worked, and there was no need for the (new) law,” he said.

The new law, which took effect last April, requires campaigns to provide the names and addresses of any paid signature gatherers - something that’s not required of volunteer signature gatherers. It also invalidates any petitions submitted by gatherers who have not been registered with the state by the campaign, and would subject signature gatherers to criminal penalties if they’re paid but not registered with the state.

Representatives for Martin’s office and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel told the newspaper they don’t know yet whether the state will appeal the decision or let the case go to trial.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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