Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sunday Alcohol Law

Sunday Alcohol Sales in Georgia
By: Jared Coile
            The state of Georgia will soon be joining 47 other states in allowing packaged alcohol on Sunday’s after passing the Senate in early April and the House on the last day of legislation proceedings.  On the morning of April 28 Governor Nathan Deal signed Senate Bill 10 which will allow local voters to decide if they want to permit the sale of bottled beer, wine, and distilled beverages, into law.  The state of Georgia already allows communities to vote on whether they allow drinks by the glass on Sunday.  Organizers believe that there needs to be a vote since people can already go out and drink at bars and restaurants and drive home.  With that in mind it would be smarter for this law to be put in place so that people may buy alcohol and take it home so the risk of drunk driving is cut down significantly.     Grocery stores and convenience stores lobbied for the bill, describing it as a service for their customers.  On the other hand, package stores opposed it because they don’t want to bear the expense of being open for a seventh day during the week to prevent loss of business to competitors who are already open on Sundays.  Gov. Nathan Deal has said he will sign the bill.   After that, it will be up to city councils and county commissions to put the question to the voters, and referendums could be on ballots as early as the November elections. 
            The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Bulloch, R-Ochlocknee, said he is sympathetic to concerns about safety on the roads or the possibility of family violence from people who drink but that since alcohol is already readily available his bill won’t be to blame. 
            The measure sailed through the House by a 127-44 vote as lawmakers moved in to the homestretch of the 2011 legislative session.  The bill last month passed the state Senate 32-22, where it had stalled for five years.  In reality it’s all about fairness.  It’s not about religion or even drinking, it’s about letting the people decide democratically.  The bill had languished for years, facing intense opposition from religious groups and veto threat from Gov. Sonny Perdue, a teetotaler. Deal said while he doesn't drink he believes in democracy. Grocery and convenience stores have pushed hard for the change saying their customers have been clamoring for it.
            The bill would allow local governments to decide whether to ask voters if they want to permit Sunday alcohol sales in grocery and conveniences stores from 12:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Sundays. Voters must approve the change and the Georgia Christian Coalition has pledged to fight the referendums on a local level.
            Package store owners are less enthusiastic than convenience stores, big-box grocers and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, which all strongly support Sunday sales.
            "It's going to increase my workload," said Sachin Patel, co-owner of Five Points Bottle Shop. "It's not going to increase my business, not for liquor stores. You're not going to create more drinkers overnight."  Patel said he still favors the bill, however. People already are allowed to drink in restaurants on Sundays, he pointed out.  "We have separation of church and state," he said. "To be fair, Sunday sales should be allowed."
            Some religious conservatives continue to disagree, although they're putting up less of a fight than in years past.   After counting Senate votes, the Georgia Christian Alliance realized that the bill would pass easily and announced that it would not actively oppose it, instead taking the fight to local governments.   Other groups, though, still are pushing in the statehouse to keep the sanctity of the Sabbath.
               Sunday sales is a popular idea, and the idea of voting on it is even more popular, according to a poll released Thursday by the Schapiro Group, a Democratic public opinion research firm in Atlanta. Seventy-eight percent of Georgians want to vote on Sunday sales, and 61 percent would vote in favor of it, the poll said.  A poll by Republican-leaning Insider Advantage showed less support - 52 percent.  The Schapiro Group poll merely referred to alcohol, while Insider Advantage asked specifically about beer, wine and distilled spirits.
            Metro Atlanta voters, men, and residents of urban and suburban areas are most likely to vote in favor, while voters over age 60, non-metro Atlanta voters, and rural residents are the most likely to vote against, the survey found.
            Lynn Cleveland an alcohol distributor in Gainesville, GA believes the changes won’t be big.  “We don’t expect a sales increase.  The same people are going to drink whether it Saturday or Sunday.  She went on to say that her company was “very neutral” on the law and how it would affect the state.  Mrs. Cleveland did say that she believed that local communities should be able to decide the issue through a vote.  With the law being passed her company has no plans for expanding or changing its ways.  “We have done no preparation within our company.  We really don’t expect a great impact either way.
              Restaurant owners around the state believe that the new law will create an equal playing field in sales for restaurants and other merchants.  Ryan Myers co-owner of Amici Athens spoke with me about his thoughts on how the new law may impact his business.  “I think if you were to look at our 6 months before and after the law goes into effect, I don’t believe the law will hurt us.  With us being downtown, there are not enough people that just solely come in here to drink on Sunday and they usually get something to eat.  I don’t think that were going to feel it.”  Personally believes as well that it should be up to the people to vote for Sunday alcohol sales.  “It’s funny to me that it has taken this long to actually become a law,” said Myers.  “I think that it will hurt grocery stores and convince stores, but over time I think that it will level out.”
            Another bar owner of SouthSide Steves on the south side of Atlanta, Steven Rickman, isn’t sure how he may be affected but hopes that it won’t hurt him any more then he already is.  “It’s been tough so far running my bar down in McDonough.  We’ve already taken a big hit with losing an Atlanta race down at the speedway and with all the drinkers south of Atlanta this may give them a reason not to come out to my bar.”  He explained that he doesn’t expect his sales to take a big hit but that it’s too early to tell.  “I think it’s great that the State of Georgia will be able to buy alcohol freely any day of the week.”
            As you can tell everyone that has any ownership in the business of selling alcohol doesn’t feel that there will be a great deal of impact, especially in the long run.  It seems that everyone may feel a slight impact at first, but as time moves on and things settle down to a norm that sales won’t be affected. 

The other side of Sunday sales
            Baptists are officially against the bill which would allow communities to decide for them. Religious group are proudly locking arms with the liquor store trade association in opposition to the bill. The liquor lobby is against the bill because their retail outlets don’t want to open their stores on Sundays because of the extra work and expense. 
            The Georgia Baptist Convention has a paid lobbyist who calls this “encroachment on the Lord’s Day” an understandable sentiment and probably the only argument he has, although the term “encroachment” may be about three generations behind the curve on Lord’s Day activities.   Sunday as a different day has been non-existent in this state for decades.   There is very little a Georgian cannot do on Sunday, say buy a bottle of wine at a convenience store. 
            In an Interview by the staff writer Walter Jones of the Augusta Chronicle opponents tried to weaken the bill with amendments, but all were defeated.   One, for example by Sen. Hardie Davis, would have extended the period in which sales are prohibited from 11:30 Sunday mornings to 2 p.m.
“So we can remember the sanctuaries, the houses of worship, as opposed to opening the doors of the places of worship and the first thing I see is the dispensing of alcohol libation and spirits other than the Holy Spirit,” said Davis, an Augusta Democrat who is also a minister.
            Preserving the sanctity of Sundays also motivated Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, to vote no.   He compared it to abortion by saying that public opinion changed on abortion when the courts ruled it legal.  “When you change the law, people will believe the law, whether you tell them the right thing or the wrong thing,” he said.
               In an e-mail I received from the Southern Baptist Convention they stated that they had no direct response to the law.  The Southern Baptist Convention does not have a specific position on "Sunday sales."  A position is only formed when the messengers vote on a resolution during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.   However, the SBC's 2006 resolution on alcohol, does speak to this issue. It "express[es] our total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic beverages" and "urge[s] Southern Baptists to take an active role in supporting legislation that is intended to curb alcohol use in our communities and nation."
                Though the outcome failed short for protestors and lobbyists at the state level it’s not up to those who oppose it to fight it at the local level.  With the law being signed into law people will have to protest with local law makers to have it withheld from ballets in November elections.  Many metro Atlanta counties are believed to be in full acceptance of the law and see no problem passing the law locally when the time comes.  Yet others around northern parts of the state and farther to the south in more “Bible belt” areas feel that local communities will give the new law the ax as soon as it’s available to be voted on.  Yet, many local Baptist leaders are already feeling defeat and let down now that the law is amended and that it’s up to the people to decide.  

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Come Home City Girl

Come Home City Girl
            She may have been excited the day she received her acceptance letter to the University of Georgia, but she never would have known what bumpy road lie ahead in front of her.  Meredith Menneg an outgoing city girl drove up to Athens that one sun shiny day as an incoming freshman to UGA.  She had friends, an adoring family that supported her and, of course, most of her life packed in the back seat of her car.  Yet something happened after a while, there was a swift change in the air and she started to crumble one day. 
She went on to tell that her greatest achievement to date is “having the courage and strength to get help for my eating disorders”.  A year and a half ago a student at UGA she found herself always being very unhappy.  She hadn’t made any new friends, her grades started to suffer and she ended an eight year friendship with two girls who were her best friends.  Breaking up with her two best friends was her biggest regret in life, in that she wishes she would have done it sooner.  Help is what she needed and help from doctors is what she got.  She was diagnosed with depression, anorexia, bulimia and a memory eating disorder (where you over eat on foods you tie back to happy memories).  Finally she decided to  sit down with her family and make a statement that she needed help.  As soon as the semester was over and she could pack up her life again, she moved back to Atlanta, immediately sought help, and is now on the road to a successful recovery. 
Surprisingly, when she was about eight years old she had a near fatal accident which would lead to no trips to Six Flags or any amusement parks for the rest of her life.  She went to a small little carnival, the ones that you can find out at your local K-Mart parking lot every once in a while.  Well you know how those usually turn out, and well for Meredith she just so happened to be at the right place at the wrong time.  She described it as a Pepto-Bismol colored roller coaster that was full of adventure and excitement.  Yet, twenty feet down to the ground lay a bruised and hurt little girl.  She said the yell from her mother and the dead silence of the world was something that she’d never forget.  The fall left her pretty banged up, and to this day will never ride one again.  Her mother took care of her after the accident, and she thanks her for that every day.  She admires her mom the most especially since the divorce of her parents a few years back.  Her mom sort of went to being her own type of unique person, one that she could look up to. 
Meredith kept talking to me about things that meant the most to her.  Her most treasured possession is her dog Mischa.  Mischa is a year and a half black lab/border collie/pit bull mix and she is the true love of her life.  The dog arrived in her life when she was at her worst moments at UGA, when that eye of the storm was trying to pass over her life.  She is one of the only reasons she is not in a rehabilitation center right now. She completely caught me off guard when she told me this story about her dog.   
“She has saved my life in more ways than one.  One night she was restless and wouldn’t let me sleep.  I took her out because I figured she had to go to the bathroom, but as it turns out my roommate left her flat iron on and it had started a small fire on the carpet...I had no idea but Mischa wouldn’t let me sleep until I put it out.  I got up saw the fire and we ran out in terror. ”
Her dog had got her through more things than we can ever understand.  Her dog indeed makes her happy, but for perfect happiness she wants to be happy for herself.  Not happiness for herself but to take that happiness and find someone to share it with for the rest of her life.   She described her current state of mind as “I am happy where I am in life so far but I know I have so much more to go.  I have a lot of dreams and goals for myself and I know I am my own worst critic.  I have a tendency to put a lot of pressure on myself but I know in the end it will produce a lot of great things for me.” 
Her mother is now one of her biggest inspirations.  She is inspired everyday to follow the footsteps of her mom and to succeed through life as she has.  “I believe in Meredith and believe that she can overcome anything now.”  Meredith almost gave up but through the power of a strong woman like her mother there is no way she’s going to give up easy this time.  “I saw her through her darkest days when she was in Athens, and at night I would just lie awake in bed wondering if I was going to get a call that she was gone.  This went on for months until she came to me with happy tears in her eyes saying that she weren’t going to let me down and that her life was more precious now than ever.  Yet I think she owes it all to her dog Mischa.”
The story doesn’t end there.  When she finally got back into school at Georgia State she quickly became friends with a girl named Sarah Humphrey.  As they adventured through studies and fun social times, Meredith became wrapped up in the life that she had always wanted.  She got a new job bartending and making A’s in all of her school work.  Sarah never knew the story of her past until just a few months ago.  “I was shocked.  In fact I was just speechless and almost broke out in tears.  To know that someone was so far on the edge that they could have just ended it all really hit me deep.  I don’t know what I’d do without her in my life and I feel honored and pray every day that I’m just a much a part of hers.”
Since she has already experienced the ups and downs of her young life she just wants herself and the people around her to appreciate what they’ve done for her and what she has done for them.  “I will do anything for my friends and family and it means the world to me to see them smile because of some small gesture that I did.”  Meredith continues to grow as a better person everyday and hopes to never fall into the darkness that once took over her life.  The goal of happiness is something she reaches out with open arms every day.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

College Football Hall of Fame Headed to Atlanta

            First and goal, Atlanta!  No not the Falcons this time, but the NCAA College Football Hall of Fame will be relocated to Atlanta in March of 2013.   Currently situated in South Bend, IN the facility will move within walking distance of The World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium.   The 50,000-square-foot facility will be close to the Georgia Dome and Philips Arena, across the street from Centennial Olympic Park and taking over space at this time used by Centennial's Green Parking Lot.   With half of the cities tourists on the move in the area of this site is looking to bring in around 500,000 college football fans every year.   Nearly 2 million sports fans go to sporting events each year at the nearby Philips Arena and Georgia Dome, and Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium is just a short two miles down the street from both arenas.   The aquarium has drawn more than 10 million visitors since its opening in 2005.Atlanta is trying to bring on the title of Sport’s capital of the South.  With huge events every year including the SEC football championship game, the Chick-fil-a Bowl and having the Super Bowl and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship all in Atlanta, the sky’s the limit for the Hall and to bring tourists in around the year.  
            With a price tag of around $50 million, local management group Atlanta Hall Management says that $31 million has already been raised.     Atlanta officials have not provided the city’s official offer, in spite of frequent requests.   What is known is that it includes $5 million from the Chick-fil-A Bowl, $5 million from Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A, $1 million grant from the Atlanta Development Authority and $10 million from the state of Georgia in general obligation bonds.  Also part of the deal will be a yearly amount of $700,000 to the Georgia World Congress Center where the building is proposed to be built in its green lot.   
            Steve Ethier has been named chief operating officer of Atlanta Hall Management, Inc., the newly formed non-profit organization created to construct and run the new College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.   Ethier will be responsible for day-to-day supervision of the Hall's design and its building progression.   He will then changeover to operating the facility once it is completed in early 2013 with the possibility of opening as soon as the fall of 2012.
            “As we move forward in the design and construction process, there is a need for an experienced leader to shape our collective vision into reality," Gary Stokan, President and CEO of Atlanta Hall Management and the Chick-fil-A Bowl.   “We have every belief that Steve is the right choice and are looking forward to the knowledge he will bring to this project.”
            Said Ethier, “I am eagerly looking forward to the opportunity to be part of such a vibrant project.   I share the same vision that, together, we will provide a unique experience among the very best in the country to showcase the rich history and long tradition of college football to the nation.”
            During the estimated two-year building process, the College Football Hall of Fame development will create an projected $91 million in profitable impact for Georgia, while creating an anticipated 884 jobs in the downtown Atlanta are and will produce an estimated $4.9 million in state taxes for Georgia.   The production period is also likely to generate $1.8 million in city tax revenue for Atlanta a study put together by Central Atlanta Progress.  The first phase of construction is slated to begin in August 2011.    
            “This will be an enormous financial bonus for Atlanta and Georgia at a time when no one else is creating jobs,” Stokan said.  “It will also provide a new tax revenue stream at a time when state sales tax revenues have declined.”  In the bidding process Atlanta beat out Dallas who said they didn’t want take tax payers money of front to pay for the project.  When Atlanta’s bid hit the table members were shocked to see that the proposal had already had a majority of the backing from the state of Georgia’s biggest companies including Coke and Chick-fil-a in order to bring the Hall of Fame to Atlanta.  The addition of the Hall is on the strong feelings that the economy is on the way up and with the addition of jobs, Atlanta will be thriving bigger than ever. 
            The structure is to have a spoke-and-wheel design that will let visitors choose which direction they would like to go once they enter into the main atrium of the Hall.  The exterior will resemble a football, including its texture.   The Hall will have a 3-D theater, stadium style lighting, and a broadcast facility.  ESPN is to provide content, along with a big screen for college game day and ESPN college football game.  The big screens will also show live games of events being played in Philips Arena and the Georgia Dome.  Fans will be enjoying more of an attraction atmosphere over the usual tourist attraction.  After hearing about the big news one Atlanta resident was ecstatic to hear the Hall was coming.  “I’ve always been a huge football fan especially college,” Georgia State student Brian Rodgers.  “I hope they have a season pass to this place so that I can go every week!  It really makes me feel good as a resident of Georgia to have the honor to have the Hall of Fame in our backyard.” 
            The hall will even have a home state taste to it including thirty two players from Georgia schools are already in the prestigious Hall of Fame including Herschel Walker, Vince Dooley, and Charlie Trippi.  For those locally in the state who haven’t yet enjoyed the 60 flavors of coke you can sample across the street at the World of Coca-Cola or seen the beautiful Beluga Whales next door at the Georgia Aquarium, make sure that you get your fix with all three attractions in the great city of Atlanta.  Up for consideration to open in late 2011 is Museum for Civil & Human Rights.  With the tremendous amount of work that is being put into the city the Hall of Fame should feel right at home along side all these other great venues.  There is no doubt that the Hall belongs in the South.