Casinos for highways group sues AG Leslie Rutledge (UPDATED)

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 1,480 views 

Driving Arkansas Forward, the group pushing for a casinos for highway funding constitutional amendment proposal, has filed suit against Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge after she rejected their ballot measure proposal for a fourth time.

The court filing was made to the Arkansas Supreme Court on Tuesday (April 17), one day after Rutledge rejected Driving Arkansas Forward’s fourth draft effort. She has cited “ambiguities” with the proposed ballot issue in her rejection of the measure.

By state law, a group wishing to place a proposed amendment on the general election ballot must receive approval from the Arkansas Attorney General before qualifying to collect signatures for the measure. If an appropriate number of voter signatures are collected and approved as legitimate by the Arkansas Secretary of State, then the proposal qualifies for the general election.

In its Supreme Court petition, Driving Arkansas Forward — through its attorneys, Steel, Wright, Gray & Hutchinson, PLLC — said they have addressed “all concerns” raised by Rutledge in her rejection notices.

They have asked the state’s high court for expedited consideration of its petition and an accelerated briefing schedule.

The Arkansas Casino Gaming Amendment of 2018 would authorize two new casinos – one in Jefferson County and one in Pope County – while enhancing the gaming operations at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs and Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis. The bulk of tax revenues from casino gaming under the proposed constitutional amendment would go for highway needs statewide, as well as in the counties and cities where the casinos are located.

Claiming that “time is of the essence” in its effort to have language approved by the Attorney General in order to begin the petition process, the attorneys for Driving Arkansas Forward ask for the court to hold an emergency hearing on the merits of their case on April 26, 2018.

“Because most, if not all, of the legal arguments and facts are contained in Petitioner’s March 30,2018 proposed constitutional amendment submitted to the Attorney General, her April 16, 2018 opinion rejecting Petitioner’s proposed constitutional amendment, this expedited schedule is not overly burdensome on the parties,” the court filing states.

The 167-page court document is full of exhibits underscoring its case and the filing outlines several areas where the group claims it has been accurate in its presentation of the ballot title and text, as well as clarifying aspects of the measure that Rutledge has described as misleading or poorly defined.

“Driving Arkansas Forward has acted in good faith to address the Attorney General’s comments on a proposal that would improve Arkansas’s highways and create new jobs. We believe the ballot measure is clear and unambiguous, and we are concerned that the Attorney General is applying an unnecessarily burdensome standard in this review,” Driving Arkansas Forward spokesman Nate Steel said.

“To date, the Attorney General has rejected more than 50 proposed ballot titles for 2018. Not a single one that has been submitted has been certified by the AG’s office. Recognizing that barrier, we are pursuing the option available to us under Arkansas law to petition the Arkansas Supreme Court directly. We believe voters should have the right this November to adopt this measure. We have asked the Court to order the AG to certify the popular name and ballot title of the proposal so that voters can exercise that right,” he added.

Rutledge defended her rejections of the ballot measure stating that the Supreme Court has set a high threshold for proposed amendments, initiated acts and ballot questions.

“In recent years, the Arkansas Supreme Court has set a very high standard for certifying a ballot proposal. As Attorney General, I have a responsibility to follow those standards to ensure that voters fully understand the issue presented on the ballot and what exactly a ‘for’ or ‘against’ vote means,” Rutledge said in a statement to Talk Business & Politics.

In other related news, Driving Arkansas Forward announced it had expanded its ballot question committee to include:

John Berrey, Chairman Quapaw Tribe
Randy Horton, Mayor of Russellville
John Daly, Professional Golfer
Sherman Tate, Business Executive
Montine McNulty, Director of Arkansas Hospitality Association
Mike Webb, Manhattan Road & Bridge
Robert Handley, Pastor Mt. Harmony Missionary Baptist Church
Berlin Jones, Retired Judge
Frank Anthony, Retired PBSD Superintendent
Marshall Kelly, Brown Funeral Home
Jessie Kearney, Attorney
Archie Sanders, State Farm Insurance Agent

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