A new angle on local option elections on alcohol sales | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A new angle on local option elections on alcohol sales

Posted By on Sat, Feb 7, 2015 at 8:06 AM

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge last week disapproved the form of a proposed initiated act that would make it somewhat easier to mount petition drives to permit sale of alcohol in dry areas.

David Couch, the Little Rock lawyer who participated in the unsuccessful ballot initiative to take the whole state wet in 2014, proposes in the initiated act to lower the number of voter signatures required to put an alcohol vote on the ballot. It's currently 38 percent of voters in the jurisdiction's last vote for governor. Couch's proposal would make it 25 percent.

The attorney general quibbled with the language — Couch's proposal uses "legal voters" where the existing statute refers to "qualified electors" — but it undoubtedly will be revised.

It marks a different approach. The local option law sponsored by then-Sen. Lu Hardin to make petition drives hard with a high petition requirement has deterred some, but not all petition efforts. Drives were beaten back by liquor industry forces in neighboring counties in Faulkner and Craighead counties last year. But Saline and Columbia counties voted wet.

The statewide initiated act signature count is much easier to achieve, only 62,507 in the last election. The local option election in Faulkner County required about 25,000 signatures for that one county alone. Couch's idea would lower the number by about a third. It still seems a lot of money and effort to expend for an intermediate step toward sales by the chain retailers that have favored more alcohol sales in the state.

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