Thursday, August 14, 2014

Progress reported on alcohol, minimum wage petition drives

Posted By on Thu, Aug 14, 2014 at 1:49 PM

Petitions are due by Monday at the secretary of state's office for two voter initiatives — a constitutional amendment to allow retail alcohol sales in all 75 Arkansas counties and an initiated act to increase the state minimum wage.

David Couch, attorney for the alcohol proposal, said he's confident about his effort. The amendment needed 78,133 signatures of registered voters to qualify. It fell 17,133 short. Couch said his paid canvassing organization has gathered more than 42,000 additional signatures and his internal checks show a validation rate in the 75 percent range, which would provide a wide margin. Let Arkansas Decide, the group pushing the amendment, is backed by retailers such as grocery and convenience stores.

The alcohol amendment faces certain opposition from existing retail liquor stores, particularly those operating in wet counties with big dry counties as neighbors. An attorney for those interests has already argued that petitions were submitted after the deadline in the Constitution (it was extended to July 7 by the secretary of state because the normal deadline fell on July 4, a state holiday) and that the petitions are deficient in various technical aspects.

I haven't gotten a first-hand comment yet from Give Arkansas a Raise Now, the labor- and Democrat-backed drive to raise the minimum wage. But Couch said he'd spoken with a leader of that drive, also using paid canvassers, and said he'd been told they had "more than enough" signatures. Give Arkansas a Raise now needed 62,507 signatures and fell 15,107 short after signature validation. Its proposal would raise the state minimum wage from $6.25 to $8.50 an hour by 2017. The drive barely met the threshold for facially valid signatures on its first submission, about 1,500 more than the 62,507 required. The facially valid signatures were then reviewed to see if they were signatures of registered voters and that review left them needing the 15,107.

The minimum wage initiative could be affected by the same deadline issue raised on the alcohol petitions. As yet, no formal objection to that initiative has been voiced, but the measure doesn't enjoy support from the business community. The Friday Law Firm, which is challenging the alcohol drive, has worked with the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce on past election initiative issues.

Couch said he might be able to turn in the alcohol petitions Friday afternoon. Petitions from both drives are due to be submitted by Monday.

UPDATE: Stephen Copley, leading the wage campaign, said he feels "very positive" about the additional canvassing. He said the group should submit 60,000 additional signatures. Even with a 60 percent validation rate, that would be more than twice the number neeeded.

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