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.