The Arkansas Supreme Court today rejected a challenge of the proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the sale of alcoholic beverages in all 75 counties and end the patchwork quilt of local option elections.
A group financed primarily by county line liquor store owners had challenged the proposed amendment, financed by retailers such as grocery and convenience store chains.
The Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Karen Baker, was unanimous.
It rejected the argument that the petitions violated the Constitution by missing a July 4 deadline. Secretary of State Mark Martin extended the normal deadline, which fell on a state holiday, to July 7, the next business day. This is in keeping with long state practice.
The court agreed that Amendment 7 set a July 4 deadline. But it said that amendment must be read in concert with a subsequent election amendment, 51, and statutes. The court said it was clear the deadline occurred on a legal holiday and “the election law deadline must be the next day which is not a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday.” To read the constitution otherwise would restrict petitioners’ rights.
This decision should clear any questions pertaining to petition deadlines for the initiated act to raise the minimum wage. A millionaire heir to the Stephens financial fortune is trying to get that knocked off the ballot, both for the petition filing deadline and also for allegations of fraud in the signature gathering process. That case remains before the Supreme Court.
The group challenging the alcohol petition also criticized the ballot title. It said it didn’t fully reveal the impact of the amendment. They said, for example, that the amendment could repeal rules that prohibit alcohol sales near churches and schools. The court said the title was sufficient in saying that it would allow alcohol sales throughout Arkansas. It said it need not decide the debate of whether such prohibitions were rules that would not be affected by the amendment or bars to sales that would fall on account of the amendment. That’s a question about implementation, not the ballot title, the court said.
The court similarly said that a measure’s title need not list every possible consequence in the case of the possibility that the amendment would open all counties to the sale of mixed drinks. Said the court:
We conclude that while inside the voters booth, voters will be able to reach an intelligent and informed decision for or against The Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Amdendment and understand the consequences of his or her vote based on the ballot tile.
Justices Donald Corbin and Paul Danielson wrote separately in a concurring opinion that solely by Amendment 7, which provides that laws may be enacted to facilitate it. Statutes provide for an extension of deadlines when they fall on a holiday, they said. Amendment 51 need not be considered.
An expensive campaign is expected. Opponents have already been spending from a nearly $1 million expenditure to begin working on themes that the amendment would end local option in dry areas and that some of the state legislation and ABC rules pertaining to sales could fall as well. Supporters contend that existing rules would remain in place. Retail package stores, for example, could be permitted only under population guidelines, for example.
The local option question doesn’t hold much appeal to me. Alcohol is one of the few things on which we allow local option. The legislature has taken away local option on other issues, such as gun regulation. We wouldn’t allow local option on prayer, abortion or same-sex marriage (though as resident of a liberal precinct, I might like the outcome.).
Conway County liquor dealers have already chipped in $575,000 alone to protect the partial monopoly they hold on Faulkner County booze sales. It’s part of a kitty of more than $1.2 million from which Heathcott and Associates has received $828,000 to mount an opposition campaign. Walmart had spent heavily attempting to get local option measures on ballots in three key counties — Faulkner, Craighead and Saline — but succeeded only in Saline and there’s been a legal challenge there. If Walmart weighs in on the statewide campaign, it obviously has the means for major impact.
Think about it for a minute. Conway County liquor stores are spending a fortune to keep Faulkner County from selling alcohol. That’s not exactly local option.
Let Arkansas Decide, which is pushing the amendment, has reported $165,000 in contributions so far, but that figure now will certainly grow.