by Lee Hogan
Posted 5/20/2014 11:34 am
Updated 6 months ago
While local initiatives continue in Faulkner, Saline, Craighead and Columbia counties to have voters decide in November whether retail alcohol sales should be allowed, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel approved on Monday the text and ballot title of a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow alcohol sales in every Arkansas county.
It was the fourth submission from Little Rock attorney David Couch who said he was "pleasantly surprised" the proposal, referred to as "The Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Amendment," was accepted by the attorney general after making "tiny tweaks to words and commas" after three rejections.
More: Read McDaniel's full opinion here (PDF).
All that stands between starting petition drives to gather signatures is submitting a petition format to Secretary of State Mark Martin. If everything goes according to plan, Couch said petitions could start this weekend at Riverfest in Little Rock and at other locations across the state.
The proposed amendment needs signatures from 78,133 registered voters with at least 5 percent of the voters in 15 different counties by July 7.
Couch has enlisted the help of National Ballot Access, already in Arkansas conducting petition drives in Faulkner, Saline and Craighead counties for the Our Community, Our Dollars committee. With NBA canvassers already in those three counties, Couch said it would make sense for them to collect signatures for both petitions.
"With a short amount of time, you also want to hit the major metropolitan areas, so we'll most likely have canvassers in Pulaski, Sebastian, Washington and Benton counties as well," he said.
Couch said the petition drives would have as many canvassers as needed, and believes the required signatures can be gathered within 30 days. Depending on groups that support the proposed amendment, Couch said the petition drives could get easier.
The Our Community, Our Dollars committee is led by Jay Allen, a former Wal-Mart executive, and Polly Martin, president of the Arkansas Grocers & Retail Merchants, and funded by Arkansas retailers, including Wal-Mart and Kum & Go.
While he would not disclose the possible supporters of his proposed amendment, Couch said he hopes for the same supporters as the county initiatives "and more."
"It's just my personal perspective, but I believe Arkansas' wet-dry counties [are] antiquated," he said. "We need to be more inline with the rest of the United States."
An Easier Way
The statewide approach offers an easier avenue than the county-specific route. For the county issues to make their way to the November ballot, 38 percent of the registered voters in each county much sign the petition.
That means about 25,000 signatures in Saline County, 24,800 in Faulkner County, 20,000 in Craighead County and 6,300 in Columbia. In all, the four counties will need a combined 76,100 signatures, compared to the 78,133 signatures needed for Couch's proposed amendment for the entire state.
"I just don't think anyone has thought about it," Couch said.
What if it Passes?
If the amendment makes its way to the November ballot and is approved by voters, alcohol sales would be legal in all Arkansas counties. The amendment would also repeal laws that allow counties to hold wet-dry votes.
Couch said the proposal would not change any state regulations already in place and would give the regulation of manufacture, sale, distribution and transportation of alcoholic beverages to the Arkansas Legislature.
The general election is Nov. 4.