Credit: Shannon Cornman

Brian Howe of Oklahomans for Modern Laws said he doubts the group can collect the 155,216 required signatures by the deadline. If the campaign is unsuccessful, Howe said, the organization will focus on 2014.

On June 28, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the drive could proceed. Oklahoma law states that petition drives have 90 days from the date of filing or from the Supreme Court’s determination of the campaign’s constitutionality. Consequently, that would put the deadline at September 26 — less than two months before the Nov. 6 election.

And the collection of signatures is only the first step. All signatures must be verified, and time must be allotted for challenges and appeals. Lee Slater, an attorney representing Oklahomans for Modern Laws, said the process makes it all but impossible for the issue to be on this year’s ballot.

‘A money grab’

While Slater did not want to speculate on whether there would be challenges to the petition, it’s likely that at least one challenge would come from the Oklahoma Retail Liquor Association, which for months has opposed the would-be state question.

“This isn’t good for anyone except large, out-of-state retailers,” said J.P. Richard, president of the association. “Just look at the language in the petition. It allows for corporate entities to have up to six licenses. Oklahomans can only have one. We have to live in the state for 10 years. The corporations don’t. This is clearly a money grab.”

The state constitution currently allows only one retail liquor license per individual. In other words, one person can own one licensed retail store. Under the petition language, corporations could have two licenses immediately, and then acquire two more every other year for a maximum of six.

Additionally, Richard cites the way the petition treats small retailers. It would allow only retailers with 25,000 square feet of floor space — loading docks, storage space and the like don’t count — to acquire a license.

“What does that tell you about which retailers will benefit?” he said. “Only the largest grocery stores in the biggest cities.”

Richard said he also is worried about how the new law would treat licensed package stores as opposed to grocers. Currently, licensed package stores can only carry alcoholic beverages over 3.2 percent alcohol by volume: specifically strong beer, wine and spirits. They are not allowed to sell set-ups, corkscrews, fresh fruit, or any other drink-related paraphernalia. The larger grocery stores already have many of those items in stock.

Richard said that package stores don’t receive any consideration from the proposal, essentially creating an unfair application of the law.

Incremental changes

“We have tried to make incremental changes over the years to make the shopping experience more customer-friendly,” he said. “We don’t need radical changes; we need to focus on legislation that makes our current system better.”

Two measures supported by Richard and other retailers fizzled in the Legislature this past session. The first would have let people under 21 accompany a parent or legal guardian into a package store. Proponents said the change would make shopping more convenient when parents have kids in the car.

The second would have allowed product tastings in package stores, a practice that’s currently illegal.

Richard said his group will focus on public relations in preparation for 2014. “People need to know why this petition is a bad idea,” he said, “and they need to understand how our system really does deliver the best selection and prices.”

Slater said Oklahomans for Modern Laws will make a decision soon about how to proceed. “I think the proponents of the campaign are evaluating their options,” he said.

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