Arkansas AG rejects language for proposed ballot measure protecting access to government records

(Flyer Photo/File)

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin on Monday rejected the language for a proposed ballot measure that would make access to government records and meetings a right protected in the state’s constitution.

Griffin rejected the language for the proposed Arkansas Government Transparency Amendment, which would also make it more difficult for lawmakers to narrow access to public meetings and records.

Griffin’s approval is needed before the group behind the measure can begin collecting the 90,704 signatures from registered voters needed to qualify for the ballot. Griffin cited “lack of clarity on key terms” as a reason for the rejection, saying terms like government transparency and public record are never defined in the proposal.

“Your proposed text hinges on terms that are undefined and whose definitions would likely give voters serious ground for reflection,” Griffin wrote to proponents.

Arkansas Citizens for Transparency, the group behind the measure, said in a statement it was “perplexed” by Griffin’s decision and said he was seeking a definition standard that other constitutional rights don’t have.

“The Constitutions do not define free speech, free exercise of religion, or the right to bear arms,” the group said. “Our attorney general’s opinion indicates that the right to government transparency should be more restricted than our other rights in the Constitution.”

Democratic Sen. Clarke Tucker, who chairs the group’s drafting committee, said the group is exploring all options, including submitting a revised proposal, submitting multiple revised proposals and litigation. A companion ballot measure is pending before Griffin’s office.

Arkansas Citizens for Transparency formed after Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law restricting the release of records about her travel and security. Sanders had initially proposed broader exemptions limiting the public’s access to records about her administration, but that proposal faced a backlash that included media groups and some conservatives.