Group to begin petition for beer, wine sales in stores
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Saturday, January 14, 2012
1/14/12 at 7:59 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - A group seeking to legalize wine and strong beer sales in Oklahoma's grocery and convenience stores plans to begin the initiative petition process as soon as next week.
Oklahomans for Modern Laws will file its petition with the secretary of state, which starts a process that the group hopes will lead to a statewide vote on the issue in November.
Currently, state law restricts retail sales of wine and beer of more than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight to liquor stores.
Changing the law will help improve the state's image, attract major retailers to the Oklahoma market and give consumers more choices about where they spend their money, said Brian Howe, spokesman for the group.
After the petition is filed with the secretary of state and goes through a former publication process, opponents will have 10 days to challenge the legality of the petition's language before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
One key technical question is whether the group will be able to change the retail alcohol laws with only one petition and one state question, Howe said.
The group's initial effort will attempt to do so, but opponents are likely to say it violates the state Constitution's requirement that state questions only deal with one issue.
If the Supreme Court rules that the issue can't be dealt with in a single petition, the group will come back with a multiquestion effort, Howe said.
If the issue clears the Supreme Court, the group will have 90 days to collect more than 155,000 Oklahoma voter signatures.
Howe said the group hopes to have petitions in the hands of professional petition-passers by spring with a goal of gathering 200,000 signatures to give the effort some cushion. After signed petitions are returned to the Secretary of State's Office, opponents will have another opportunity to challenge the effort on the basis of an insufficient number of signatures.
The group plans to spend $300,000 to $450,000 on the petition-passing campaign and is relying on financial contributions from retailers to pay for the effort, Howe said.
J.P. Richard, president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma and owner of a Lawton liquor store, said his group is ready to fight any effort to take wine and strong beer sales away from liquor stores.
He said the state's system for selling wine and strong beer works as it is and doesn't need alteration.
"This industry has been here for 50 years and it's not broken," he said.
Richard said the petition process actually cost closer to a million dollars, and he is suspicious of the financing of the campaign.
"Who's behind this thing?" Richard asked. "Follow the money. The money tells all."
Mike Thornbrugh, spokes-man for QuikTrip, Oklahoma's largest convenience store chain, said the company will have to look at the petition when it is filed to see if it can support it.
The company wants to end the state's dual-strength beer system and get wine into the retail setting but won't be willing to support an effort if it changes retail hours and days of operation, the right to sell refrigerated beer or rules on hiring clerks younger than 21 to match state laws that apply to liquor stores, he said.
How to change the state Constitution
The Oklahoma Constitution can only be changed by a vote of the people.
A state question proposing a constitutional change can come from the Legislature or from an initiative petition.
State questions proposing constitutional changes can only deal with a single issue.
An initiative petition to change the Constitution must be signed by a number equal to 15 percent of the voters in the most recent governor's election, currently about 155,000 people.
A recent change in state law means legal challenges to a proposed initiative petition happen prior to the petition-passing process, instead of after it.
If the state Supreme Court approves a proposed petition, organizers will have 90 days to gather the needed signatures.
Opponents can challenge the number of valid signatures after the petition has been returned to the Secretary of State's Office.
Original Print Headline: Wine and beer battle brewing
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
QuikTrip Clerk Tommy Hess stocks beer in the cooler of the 15th and Denver store in Tulsa. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/Tulsa World