Liquor Amendment to go Before Committee

March 4, 2003
Posted at: 2:17 p.m. CST

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- It is expected that language in HB 1728, the local option bill, will be amended as it goes before the House Rules Committee on Wednesday.

Rep. Betty Pickett of Conway, the lead sponsor of the bill, confirmed that language that defines minimum food sales levels for restaurants will be added to the legislation.

HB 1728, if passed, would make it easier for residents of Craighead and Faulkner Counties, and the cities of Jonesboro and Conway, to vote on liquor by the drink sales in the officially "dry" counties.

The amendment will further define restaurants beyond the current law. The new language will require that restaurants, if a liquor by the drink ballot issue passes, must maintain a minimum percentage of food sales. Proponents of the bill say that this language will make the bill easier to support in the legislature, and that it takes away one of the chief arguments of the opposition.

"We are adding the terminology that all restaurants must have 60% of their sales in food," said Carroll Caldwell, the Jonesboro representative of Citizens for a Progressive Arkansas, the major supporters of the legislation. "This change will be made Wednesday at the (House) Rules Committee. The reason for this is because it takes out a major arguing point with the opposition. They can no longer say this bill will allow for bars."

One of the main arguments by opponents to HB 1728 is that it would allow bars masquerading as eating establishments to flourish in Craighead County.

"This is not about having a glass of wine with pasta in an upscale restaurant," said Ken Stallings, pastor of the Forest Home Church of the Nazarene, as part of a Feb. 18 protest in front of the Craighead County Courthouse. "It is about bars. Bars attached to restaurants and hotels. Perhaps some nice restaurants and hotels, but bars nonetheless. Anyone will be able to drink as much as they want without so much as touching a bite of food."

"What's to stop a guy with a couple of pool tables boiling some hot dogs on the stove in the back and calling it a restaurant?" asked County Judge Dale Haas at the same protest.

In the bill's original language, restaurants were defined by Arkansas Code Annotated 3-9-202 which reads that "(restaurants are) a place where complete meals are served and where complete meals are actually and regularly served, without sleeping accommodations, such place being provided with adequate and sanitary kitchen and dining equipment and a seating capacity of at least fifty (50) people and having employed therein a sufficient number and kind of employees to prepare, cook, and serve suitable food for its guests or members; at least one (1) meal per day shall be served and the place shall be open a minimum of five (5) days per week."

HB 1728 is scheduled to be discussed before the House Rules Committee on Wednesday.