- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas voters next year will decide on proposals regarding the governor’s power, tax breaks for corporations and longer terms for elected county officials after the House and Senate Thursday advanced three constitutional amendments.

The Senate voted 33-0 Thursday for an amendment to change local elections. It would increase the terms of most county offices from two to four years. The definition of a provision of the constitution that could disqualify a person from holding office for a so-called “infamous crime” would be narrowed so that minor offenses such as writing a bad check would be excluded and the focus of the provision would be on major crimes such as felonies or abuse of power.

The House voted 80-0 to allow the governor to retain power and duties while out of state. Proponents have said the constitution is antiquated and that modern technology allows the governor to conduct state business while abroad. It would also prevent a scenario that pitted former Gov. Mike Beebe against Lt. Gov. Mark Darr in 2013 when Darr signed a firearm bill while Beebe was out of state.

The most contentious issue was a proposal to eliminate the cap on bonds the state can issue to attract employers. It would remove the cap to the state budget on Super Project Obligation Bonds, which now is about $250 million, that lawmakers have used to attract businesses such as Big River Steel in Osceola. Supporters said it will give the state greater flexibility to create jobs and boost the economy. The proceeds for the bonds are used to finance project such as infrastructure and draw businesses to Arkansas.

That amendment, however, splintered House Republicans, some of whom called the incentives anti-free market.

“Corporate welfare is just wrong,” said Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena. “It’s fundamentally wrong to take money from the taxpayers and give it to corporations.”

Republican Rep. Douglas House of North Little Rock worried that businesses aren’t accountable to voters and that the state could lose money in the deals.

“Just to give away money in hopes things will work out great is a disaster waiting to happen,” House said.

Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, said the change would help create jobs and that the state could lose businesses to its neighbors.

“It is repugnant we have to buy people off to come to this state but it’s a fact of life,” Douglas said. “If we don’t do it someone else will.”

The House voted 70-22 in favor of the amendment.

The issues will ultimately be decided by the voters in November 2016.

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Follow Allen Reed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Allen_Reed

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