For the wonks: Con law | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, February 12, 2009

For the wonks: Con law

Posted By on Thu, Feb 12, 2009 at 6:02 AM

Yesterday was the deadline for proposing state constitutional amendments. Many have been filed.

Some quick-draw predictions on measures that will survive the winnowing process: One of the proposals to change the usury limit. Low interest rates, combined with the existing limit, have all but shut down the municipal bond market, a bond lawyer told me recently.

A session doesn't pass without new constitutional corporate welfare provisions. A quick glance in this direction would have to turn first to powerful House Speaker Robbie Wills' two proposals. One would remove the $500 million minimum project size from the amendment that allows the state to issue general obligation bonds for economic development projects. No longer would something have to be a super project to get taxpayers to provide  financing. Anything would qualify. The other allows still more use of tax dollars to support private business (creeping socialism, eh?). It would provide for state investment in private technology businesses.

Sen. Steve Bryles has also filed a shell amendment said to improve the lives of all Arkansans. That's generally code for corporate welfare and its presumed trickle-down benefits. Keep watch.

After usury and corporate welfare, what? You can't discount some of the nutty stuff, such as Sen. Steve Faris' repeat effort to sanctify a "right to hunt" in the Constitution. Its extraneous claptrap, pandering to the gun lobby, but, well, that's usually pretty safe politics in the General Assembly. Rep. Rick Green would savage the lottery amendment almost before it's implemented. (He'd open the door to diverting money from college scholarships.) Or, wait, maybe the Green amendment isn't as bad as Brummett initially suggested, but it still looks questionable from here.

Trojan horses? Easy. When a Republican, Rep. J. Burris, steps up as a champion of equal rights, you better watch your back. He would amend the broad equal rights provision of our existing Constitution with an amendment that would guarantee equal rights on the specific grounds of race, gender, religion and ethnicity.

Notice anything missing? Sure you do. Sexual orientation for one. National origin for another. Age for another. Disability for another. I suspect the first omission is the primary motivation of this mean little charade, maybe the first two. The U.S. founding fathers, who broadly protected equal rights, had it right. When you start defining things, you invite errors and omissions. Equal rights under the law for all. What is so bad about that? Here's the opening language of our current provision, which goes on to specifically bar deprivation of rights on account of race (we'd been through a Civil War not long before over this question)\

"The equality of all persons before the law is recognized, and shall ever remain inviolate; ..."

All. Good word that.

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