Wet or dry? With liquor law missing, questions linger

By: 
Joshua Waddles
Staff Writer

The Alcoholic Beverage Control board of the Department of Finance and Administration has listed Hot Spring County as a dry county for many years. According to Scott Hardin, ABC/DFA spokesperson, this law has not come into question until just recently.

Hot Spring County voted to become a dry county in September of 1943. Justice of the Peace Pete Willis, with the Hot Spring County Quorum Court, remembered two liquor stores that operated in the county before the vote in 1943. He remembered one ran in Perla and the other operated near the current location of Arbor Oaks.

There were two votes that culminated in Hot Spring County becoming a dry county. In 1942, the County first voted to allow a “local option”, meaning the county its self would decide if it would have the option of outlawing alcohol rather than going along with the nation, which ended prohibition in 1933. There was much public sentiment against alcohol at that time. In October 1942, a column in the Malvern Daily Record titled “What next, Mr. Liquor Man?” said blood was on the hands of every American for allowing alcohol. The Anti Saloon League of Arkansas also bought advertisements state-wide leading up to the vote on the local option. The vote ending alcohol sales took place the next year.

The vote occurred when most of the able-bodied men in the county were either at war or looking for work in other areas, according to Willis. He said there were a lot of publications about PTSD, or “Shell-shock” as it was known at the time, and families feared their veterans would become alcoholics or violent when they returned home.

He said a repeal of the law has been on the ballot twice before, but the last time he remembers a repeal attempt was in the 1950s. During those repeal attempts, money from neighboring counties funded ads to keep the county dry, said Willis. He said if another attempt to make the county wet went on the ballot again today, he believed it would pass. Because new of rules and regulations, Willis said liquor stores would not be allowed near churches or schools.

Since the dry county movement in the 1940s, Willis said he’s seen neighboring counties go wet and that has resulted in a lot of extra resources for these counties. He also said people in Hot Spring County can easily get their alcohol in one of these neighboring counties.

Patty Griggs, with the Hot Spring County Election Center, said citizens could circulate a petition to get the issue on the ballot again. She said she believed this would take about 6,000 signatures from registered voters, though she recommended getting more because some of the signatures would end up being invalid upon examination during the verification process.

Individuals have the option of circulating these petitions and they do not have to be a part of an organization. There are no fees on the county’s end, though she couldn’t comment on expenses a petitioner might incur on their end.

The bill attached to the petition would need to be legal in order to survive legal challenges

But aside from the issue of possibly getting a wet county bill on the ballot, there is also an issue that raises a lot of unanswered questions. The original 1943 bill is missing. Record keepers with the Hot Spring County Courthouse were unable to find the law and have also said that other laws from this time period are also missing.

Hardin, with ABC/DFA, said that although Hot Spring County is listed as a “dry” county by them and has been for several years, they have no statute or law on file that formally confirms the law in question. ABC has received many inquiries from local citizens. Currently, they have little information to offer in response to those requests.

In order to research the issue, ABC will need an official letter from the county confirming there is no evidence of specific provisions in the law, along with any relevant documents (such as copies of old newspaper articles.) Once ABC is provided with more background, it can take everything into consideration to determine whether or not the law is still applicable.

He said it’s still too early to speculate on what it could mean for the county if the law is not found. County Clerk Sandy Bouyette said she would look into the situation with the missing law.

Image courtesy of Metro Creative Outlet

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