Local Option Opponents Protest on Courthouse Steps

February 18, 2003
Posted at: 3:45 p.m. CST

JONESBORO, Ark. -- Opponents of a proposed bill that could make it easier for residents to vote on selling liquor by the drink descended on the steps of the Craighead County Courthouse on Tuesday.

The reason for the demonstration, according to protestors, is to express "staunch opposition to a proposal to make it easier to bring bars to Jonesboro."

The protest centers around a legislative proposal being put together by a group called the Citizens for a Progressive Arkansas which would allow, specifically, the city councils of Jonesboro and Conway, or the county quorum courts of Craighead and Faulkner to place a liquor by the drink issue on the ballot.

Under current state law, 38% of the registered voters in a county would have to sign a petition to place any liquor issue on the ballot. According to Craighead County Clerk Nancy Nelms, there are approximately 48,000 registered voters in Craighead County. The 38% threshold would require approximately 18,240 registered voters to sign a petition. In the last general election, 21,512 voters participated in Craighead County.

According to a draft of the legislative proposal obtained by KAIT, the local option bill would still maintain the 38% rule, but would also allow either the quorum court, or the city council to let citizens vote on the issue by a simple majority.

Around 40 people participated in the afternoon protest. One of the participants was Craighead County Judge Dale Haas, who heads the quorum court. Haas expressed his opposition to the proposal, saying that "every flood has started with a rain drop."

"This is not a Democrat issue, or a Republican issue," Haas said. "This is a moral issue."

When asked whether supporters of the local option bill were immoral, Haas said, simply, that "they have been deceived."

Also voicing their opposition were Sheriff Jack McCann and local Pastor Ken Stallings, who said that the status quo, in terms of how to get the issue in front of the voters, should remain.

"They're welcome to vote, but let's leave the procedure the way it is," Stallings said. "Let it come from the grassroots. Let it come from the people."

The central committee of the Craighead County Democratic Party voted to support the local option bill by a 13-3 vote on February 13. The committee also encouraged Craighead County's members of the General Assembly to support the passage of the bill.

According to sources within the CPA, the local option bill is expected to be filed on February 24. It is expected the Rep. Betty Pickett, D-Conway, will sponsor the legislation.