Arkansas attorney general rejects LEARNS referendum title a second time

By: - May 11, 2023 5:49 pm
Central High students protesting with signs

A group of Little Rock Central High School students and others met on the steps of the state Capitol on March 8, 2023 to express their opposition to the LEARNS Act. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin has again rejected a proposed ballot title from a group pursuing a petition referendum to overturn the LEARNS Act.

In a six-page letter, Griffin deemed the proposed popular name legally sufficient, but said the proposed ballot title must be redesigned because it doesn’t adequately summarize the LEARNS Act, fails to address all the changes noted in his initial response and “is printed in a font that is so small, most people would be unable to read it.”

Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students (CAPES) launched the repeal process on April 10, filing a statement of organization with the Arkansas Ethics Commission and submitting a ballot title to the attorney general’s office. 

Under the new Act 194, initiative and referendum petitions must be submitted for approval to the attorney general instead of the secretary of state. April 24 was the deadline for Griffin to approve the ballot title, reject it or substitute “a more suitable and correct” one, according to the new law, which allocates 10 ten business days to render a decision.

CAPES chair Veronica McClane said the group will work to make necessary changes and do “everything we can to get this right.” McClane said she plans to go to the AG’s office tomorrow where she’d “love to have a sitdown” and get more guidance on revisions.

“It would be better if we could just work together on it instead of this whole system where it takes ten days because the people of Arkansas deserve plenty of time to have their voice heard,” she said.

Public education group resubmits referendum to repeal the Arkansas LEARNS Act

The AG’s office rejected the initial ballot title on April 24 and instructed CAPES to redesign it because it was “misleading.” Additional issues included insufficient, inaccurate and missing summaries, as well as “confusing lead-in language.”

CAPES submitted a new proposal April 28 and Thursday was the deadline for Griffin to issue an opinion.

CAPES and its executive director Steve Grappe are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the Arkansas Department of Education on Monday that challenges the legality of the LEARNS Act, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ signature education legislation. 

According to the complaint, the LEARNS Act is not valid because the legislation’s emergency clause wasn’t passed by a separate roll-call vote garnering a two-thirds majority, as required by the state Constitution.

It has been common practice for both chambers to take one vote on both a bill and its emergency clause but record them separately. 

Emergency clauses require a two-thirds majority to pass and allow laws to take effect immediately instead of 91 days after a session adjourns sine die. The Arkansas Legislature officially adjourned sine die May 1

In a statement last week, a House spokesperson said: “Emergency clause votes are recorded separately in the House Journal. Voting in the House is a matter of process which the House has the authority to determine.”


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Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.