by Max Brantley
The Nancy Todd Poker Palace amendment has cleared a hurdle that tripped up another casino amendment. Good news, too, for the medical marijuana amendment.
UPDATE: However, the medical marijuana amendment backers learned they have a steep hill to climb in 30 days.
* CASINO AMENDMENT: The secretary of state's office has concluded that the amendment drive met the requirement that canvassers get specified signature minimums in at least 15 of the 75 Arkansas counties — either 5 percent of registered voters or a half percent of the number voting in the last gubernatorial election. An accounting firm reviewing the petitions said today that Todd's amendment drive qualified on that count. It almost met the "raw count" of 78,133 signatures, but those signatures now must be verified as those of registered voters.
Earlier, the secretary of state found that Michael Wasserman, a Texas promoter, had fallen short of the minimums in at least three counties he submitted and disqualified his amendment.
The Nancy Todd amendment, run under her name in behalf of Branson, Mo., investors, would grant exclusive permits for four casinos. Todd would retain naming rights to a poker room in the casino that would be built in Pulaski County.
There's a long way to go before the dice roll. The secretary of state next must determine if the drive gathered signatures of at least 78,133 registered voters. If some of the 80,000 Todd submitted are disqualified, she'll have 30 days to submit more. Her paid canvassers are at work now gathering signatures against that possibility. This is allowed for efforts that reached the required number of signatures, if not necessarily valid ones, by the July 6 deadline.
The Friday law firm, long a major player in ballot question challenges, is known to be at work scrutinizing several of the ballot initatives. One of its clients is the Oaklawn Jockey Club, which operates a casino in Hot Springs.
If the casino amendment survives on signatures, I wouldn't be surprised to see a legal challenge raised over the expansive authority granted the Todd casinos. It explicitly limits legislative authority and sets the tax rate and how the money is to be spent, prohibiting legislative involvement.
* MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Alex Reed, press spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin, said the initiated act to allow prescription of marijuana for medical purposes has met the 15-county minimums and the raw count minium — 62,507 for initiated acts. But he said the certification process had already determined that the total includes enough invalid voter signatures that more will be required for ballot certification. The drive gets 30 days to gather those additional signatures.
Here's the letter from Martin to the marijuana committee. It says the committee turned in 65,413 signatures, but only 36,495 were registered voters. That means the group must gather more than 26,000 additional signatures by the close of business Aug. 13 to make the ballot. That won't be easy.
Work will continue on checking signatures on the casino petitions and those for a severance tax increase.