As expected, Elizabeth Robben Murray of the Friday Law Firm, joined by other lawyers, today filed a lawsuit challenging the certification of the proposed constitutional amendment to allow retail alcohol sales in all 75 counties. She also asked for an expedited hearing and asked for oral arguments.
Plaintiffs are Brian Richardson and Mary Dillard and the Citzens for Local Rights. Dillard is a political consultant who helped organize and continues to work with the association of Conway County liquor dealers that have enjoyed a profitable regional alcohol monopoly on account of business from neighborhing dry areas, particularly Faulkner County. Richardson is chair of the ad hoc committee, previously known as Let Local Communities Decide for Themselves. The defendant is Secretary of State Mark Martin. I’d expect the Let Arkansas Decide group backed by retail grocers and convenience store to intervene to protect its interests. It ran the campaign to qualify for the ballot.
Murray repeats her contention, rejected by the secretary of state, that the petitions had to be filed four months before the election, or by July 4. The secretary of state’s office was closed that holiday — and following custom as well as law pertaining to other election issues — the office extended the deadline to the next business day, July 7. Murray argued that was constitutionally impermissible.
The suit also argues that the ballot title fails to convey the scope of the amendment though it does make clear that it legalizes alcohol sales throughout all jurisdictions. The title fails to make clear the amendment could override laws that prohibit location of alcohol retailers close to churches and schools. The lawsuit similarly argues that the proposal will remove the requirement for a referendum for mixed-drink sales in a county and voters don’t have adequate notice of that.
David Couch, attorney for Let Arkansas Decide, has previously cited other constitutional grounds to defend the delay of the filing deadline. As for rules on churches and schools and mixed drinks, he said:
There is a difference between a regulation and a prohibition.
The law says that the general assembly cannot prohibit sales but can regulate.
The issues re schools and churches and mixed drinks are legitimate regulations.
There is no challenge, though one had been threatened, to signatures or notary or other technical canvassing procedures.
Murray prevailed in a lawsuit attacking a local option alcohol vote in Saline County. The statewide vote could overcome that everywhere. A local option election has also qualified for the ballot in Columbia County.
Dillard headed the They Win You Lose Committee which spent $330,000 fighting, with Conway County liquor money, the attempt to put an alcohol vote on the ballot in Faulkner County.
She also participated in a recent meeting to get other retailers on board the fight against statewide alcohol sales.