After on Monday having rejected for the fourth time the ballot information for a constitutional amendment that would see the creation of casinos in Arkansas, Driving Arkansas Forward, has filed suit against Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (pictured).
The Arkansas Casino Gaming and Highway Funding Amendment of 2018, the effort of Driving Arkansas Forward, would authorize two new casinos, one each in Jefferson County and in Pope County while improving on the gaming operations at Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis and Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. The lion’s share of tax revenue would be earmarked for highway funding statewide, as well as host communities.
The suit was confirmed by the AG’s office on Tuesday, April 17 just one day after the fourth draft effort by Driving Arkansas Forward was rejected by Rutledge who cited “ambiguities” with the proposed ballot measure. The committee’s attorneys, Steel, Wright, Gray & Hutchinson, PLLC, are now asking that the high court hold an emergency hearing on the 26th of this month to consider the merits of their client’s case, according to Talk Business & Politics.
Under Arkansas Law, the popular name and ballot title of a proposed constitutional amendment must be either certified or rejected by the attorney general within 10 business days. It must be approved before supporters of the measure can begin to collect the required 84,859 valid signatures by July 6 in order for the proposal to qualify for the general election ballot on November 6.
The 167-page court filing states, “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,” according to the news portal.
Spokesman for Driving Arkansas Forward, Nate Steel, said that the committee [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.”
Steel reportedly added that to date, upwards of 50 proposed ballot titles for this year have been rejected by AG Rutledge and that not one of the submitted has been certified by Rutledge’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,” said Steel.
Attorney General Rutledge defended her actions stating that in recent years, a high standard has been set by the Arkansas Supreme Court 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,” said Rutledge in a statement to Talk Business & Politics.
On April 10, a different proposed casino-highway amendment from Arkansas Wins in 2018 Inc. committee, which is reportedly led by retired businessman Mark Diggs of Little Rock, was rejected by AG Rutledge. The effort from Arkansas Wins in 2018 would’ve seen 52.5 percent of taxes earmarked for the state’s highway needs and four casinos built at specific locations in Boone, Benton, Pulaski and Miller counties.