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Dry Ridge moist issue questioned

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By Bryan Marshall

The Dry Ridge moist vote hit a possible snag Friday, Oct. 17, after court papers were filed asking a judge to decide if the local option election can continue on the ballot in its current language.

Grant County Attorney Jack Gatlin filed a petition for declaratory judgement on behalf of Grant County Clerk Leatha Conrad in circuit court after a question arose about the difference in wording in the certified petition filed by J.B. Barnes and the state law that allows for a local option election on alcohol sales.

“I felt we wanted to make sure that whatever vote was cast on Nov. 4 was counted,” Gatlin said. “We wanted to minimize the potential for litigation.”

The petition filed on Aug. 14 , which contained 97 signatures of Dry Ridge voters, asked for a special election to decide whether or not the voters are in favor of “the sale of alcoholic beverages by the drink in Dry Ridge at restaurants and dining facilities with a seating capacity of at least 100 persons and which derive at least 70 percent of their gross receipts from the sale of food.”

The petition’s language was similar to the wording of a state law (KRS 242.185) that was last amended in 2000.

However, after Conrad certified the petition, but prior to putting the question on the ballot, the county clerk’s office became aware of a newer state law (KRS 242.1244) that changes the minimum seating capacity for restaurants and dining facilities from 100 to 50.

The more recent law, which became effective in June 2007, also requires that a meal be purchased with an alcohol beverage, prohibits the operation of an open bar within the restaurant or dining facility and includes a limitation that no alcohol beverage can be served more than 30 minutes after a meal is completed.

When placed on the ballot, which some absentee voters have already cast, the question uses the 50-person seating capacity instead of the 100-person seating capacity in the original petition.

“Although case law only requires that the petition language and the ballot language be substantially similar, the question has now arisen as to whether the language used on the ballot meets this standard,” the court document filed by Gatlin states.

The motion is scheduled to be heard at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, at the Grant County Courthouse by Judge Stephen L. Bates.

The motion asks the judge to declare whether the local option election can continue with the current language on the ballot, and if not, whether the county clerk should amend the language on the ballot to more closely reflect the language of the older state law that uses a 100-person seating capacity.

If the language is changed on the current ballot, the judge also is asked to decide how to account for any ballots that have already been cast under the current language.

Gatlin, who described alcohol laws as “confusing and convoluted” said Conrad and her office would have been scrutinized regardless of how the question was put on the ballot.

“If she would have put the 100-seat question on the ballot, then folks would have said, ‘The most recent law is 50 seats, why didn’t she put that on it?” he said. “If she put 50 seats on, people would say, ‘Why didn’t she match it up with the petition?’ If she would have said ‘This language doesn’t match up with current law. I’m not putting it on the ballot.,’ people would say, ‘The petition was very similar to that new law, so why didn’t you put it on the ballot.’

“All I’m trying to do is clarify the situation,” Gatlin said. “There’s plenty of time to change the ballot and to allow those folks who have already cast ballots, which is very minimal, to recast their vote. This is really a non-issue. If I would have thought that by filing this there would have been a risk of coming off the ballot, I wouldn’t have filed it.”