Group can begin gathering signatures to get public records measure on Arkansas ballot

(MA Riusz/Adobe)

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin on Wednesday approved the wording of a proposal that would create a constitutional right to access public records and meetings, clearing the way for supporters to begin gathering signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Griffin approved the language for the proposed constitutional amendment a day after supporters sued his office for rejecting earlier versions of the measure. Griffin’s approval was needed before the group could begin gathering the 90,704 valid signatures from registered voters needed to qualify for the ballot.

The proposed amendment, if approved by voters, would make government transparency a right protected by the state’s constitution and would make it harder for the Legislature to change the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Arkansas Citizens for Transparency said it would begin gathering signatures for the measure. But David Couch, the group’s vice chairman, said the group would also keep moving forward with its lawsuit because it preferred an earlier version of the measure.

“If we are successful in our attempts to get the other one approved, we will reevaluate it at the time to see if we have enough time” to gather signatures for it, Couch said.

The group faces a July 5 deadline to turn in signatures to get their proposed amendment on the November ballot. In addition to the statewide requirement, the group must submit a minimum number of signatures from 50 of Arkansas’ 75 counties.

The ballot initiative effort began 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.