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Town Hall Meetings in Jacksonville and Sherwood to discuss idea of allowing more areas to sell alcoholic beverages

Jacksonville and Sherwood Chambers of Commerce are joining forces hoping to seek voter approval to convert “Dry” pockets in a complete “wet” county— open for full service restaurant sales — says the law change could generate a $10.6 million annual economic impact.

In 1933, prohibition was lifted in the United States by passage of the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution; each state was allowed to set up its own liquor laws. As a result all 75 counties in Arkansas became wet. However, in 1935, the Arkansas Legislature passed the “Thorn Liquor Law,” which legalized the manufacture and sale of alcohol throughout the state, but also provided a process by which individual counties could vote themselves dry by holding a “local option election.”

The “local option election” allowed townships, municipalities, wards or precincts located within a wet county to hold local elections and vote those area as dry. On the other hand, Arkansas law prohibits an area within a dry county from voting to become wet.

Pulaski County, a wet county, contains 4 areas (districts) that voted themselves dry as follows: Union Township – 1953; Gray Township – 1954 then again in 1956 when Gray Township changed its boundaries; Precinct 614 (Bayou Meto) Township – 1984; Park Hill Area which includes Precinct 158 – 1978; Precinct 4Q – 1966; Precinct 4P – 1966; Precinct 4M – 1966; Precinct 4E – 1966; Precinct 4K – 1966.

“Now the problem, these areas no longer exist as formal voting units,” said Amy Mattison, CEO of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. “Under Arkansas law, once a territory (area) votes itself dry, that vote can be reversed only by the exact same territory (area) that voted that area dry.”

On April 4, the Arkansas Legislatures passed Senate Bill 374. On April 9, 2013 Gov. Mike Beebe officially signed and enacted a new law, ACT 1018.

“This new law establishes procedures to allow a local option election for alcoholic beverages in defunct voting area in Pulaski County that had previously voted themselves dry, and clarifying boundaries,” said Mattison.

On April 15, a registered voter in Pulaski County submitted a letter requesting the Pulaski County Board of Election Commissioners establish boundaries of the defunct voting districts. On May 26, the maps were publicized according to the new law for 10 days in the legal notice section in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “To change the dry areas status, the law requires 38 percent of the registered voters in these established areas to sign a petition and then be filed with the Pulaski County Circuit/County Clerk’s office,” said Mattison. “The County Judge will call for election after all signatures are verified. We plan on having the election sometime in early September 2013.”

Sherwood, Jacksonville, Little Rock and North Little Rock joined forces in November 2012 to find a way to change the law.

“The impact to these cities not able to provide national chain restaurants the ability to purchase wholesale alcohol in their dry areas has been detrimental to their local economy,” Mattison said.

Two town hall meetings will take place to answer questions and sign petitions. The first one will be held on Monday, June 24, at 5:30 p.m. in the Sherwood City Council Chambers and the second one will be held on Tuesday, June 25, at 7 p.m. at the Jacksonville Community Center.

According to a notice released by Sherwood City Clerk Angela Nicholson, “The purpose of the meeting is to share the possibility of Sherwood and Jacksonville holding an election to allow current dry areas in the city to vote itself wet for purposes of economic development. A brief history of the area and why a new law, ACT 1018, was made into a new state law. This new law establishes procedures to allow a local option election for alcoholic beverages in defunct voting area in Pulaski County that had previously voted themselves dry, and clarifying boundaries.”

Nicholson said the meeting would be a time for questions that can be clarified and to determine where new voter boundaries are located for just this election.

“Petitions will be available to sign at the meeting,” Nicholson said.

Mattison added, “The public is encouraged to attend to answer any other questions.”

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