- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas’ highest court said Thursday that voters will be able to consider a proposal to expand liquor sales statewide, rejecting arguments that the idea’s backers missed a key deadline and failed to adequately tell people what a “yes” vote means.

In a unanimous decision, the Arkansas Supreme Court said it was proper for Secretary of State Mark Martin to move a filing deadline from the Independence Day holiday to the next business day, Monday, July 7. It also said petition-gatherers didn’t have to explain every possible implication of it passing.

Ballot petitions in Arkansas are always due four months before Election Day, making this year’s deadline July 4. Martin accepted petitions for the alcohol issue and a separate minimum wage question on July 7, saying the delay was required under state election laws. The court agreed.

“It is clear that the election deadline … occurred on a legal holiday,” the court wrote. “Therefore, the election-law deadline must be the next day which is not a Saturday, Sunday or a legal holiday.”

Justices also rejected suggestions that the proposal would let liquor stores open next to schools or churches, saying the amendment will still let the Legislature “regulate but not prohibit” alcohol sales.

Arkansas currently has a checkerboard of 38 “wet” and 37 “dry” counties. The proposal seeks to make liquor sales legal in all 75 counties.

David Couch, a lawyer representing the petition-gatherers, said stores, bars and restaurants would still be governed by the state’s alcoholic beverage control agency and that some restrictions would be appropriate. He said direct-mail advertising by the proposal’s opponents showing liquor stores next to playgrounds were intended only to bolster their campaign.

“You can regulate the sales of alcohol,” he said. He likened it to someone having free speech rights yet still being prevented from yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater; liquor sales will be legal in every county but there won’t be a free-for-all.

A lawyer for the group that challenged the petition did not return a call seeking comment. Lawyer Elizabeth Murray last week suggested Martin could have opened his office on July 4 to accept the petition.

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Follow Kelly P. Kissel on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kisselAP

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