Second Civic Group Lends Support

February 19, 2003
Posted at: 10:45 P.M. CST

JONESBORO, Ark. -- Supporters of a local option ballot proposal added to their numbers on Wednesday.

Downtown Jonesboro Association has endorsed a proposed local option bill that would allow liquor by the drink sales in Jonesboro restaurants. The association informed KAIT that it supported the bill at a legislative event hosted by the Greater Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce in Little Rock.

"We're going to ask for the right to vote," president Betty Shaw said. "We're going to support the bill."

The Downtown Jonesboro Association became the second high-profile civic group to lend their support to the proposal put together by a Conway-based group called Citizens for a Progressive Arkansas. A week earlier, the Central Committee of the Craighead County Democratic Party endorsed the proposed bill that is expected to be introduced on February 24.

The CPA plan calls for the cities of Jonesboro and Conway, or the counties of Craighead and Faulkner to be allowed to vote on selling liquor by the drink. Currently, both counties are "dry," but do maintain private clubs.

Downtown Jonesboro made its decision Wednesday morning, unanimously. Despite the decision, the Greater Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce has chosen to remain neutral on the local option proposal.

"I don't think we'll take a position (on the proposal)," chamber executive director Henry Jones said. "It could be very divisive for our organization."

Once the proposal is filed, it would go before the House Rules Committee to be heard, and possibly passed on to the House floor. Three Region 8 legislators are members of the Rules Committee, and one of them has already made up his mind on the issue.

Rep. Denny Sumpter, a Democrat from West Memphis, and an alumnus of Arkansas State University, says he will support the draft once it reaches his committee.

"I do think that the city should have the right to vote on it," Sumpter said. "I'm in favor of it."

Rep. Wayne Nichols of Marked Tree says he isn't leaning one way or the other on the local option issue yet.

"I'll just wait and hear the testimony (before the committee)," Nichols said. "Then I'll make my decision."

Rep. Travis Boyd of Piggott says he is hearing the concerns of citizens from Jonesboro. However, it is too early for him to make a decision.

"I won't commit to anything now, we haven't even seen the bill," Boyd said. "We've been bombarded with emails and phone calls."

A key voice in the debate over the local option proposal could rest with Jonesboro Rep. Paul Bookout. He says he has been receiving feedback from parties on both sides of the question.

"The last time they had trouble in the House Rules Committee," Bookout said. "I'm sure it will be a difficult thing. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

When asked specifically whether he would support the local option proposal, Bookout said: "I'm still considering different options on that. I'll see if it comes to the floor, how I'll do at that time. It's something that I have been getting input on from people in the town."