published Thursday, April 14th, 2011

A chance to vote on alcohol sales

It’s been a long time coming, but Georgia residents finally will get a chance to approve or reject the sale of alcohol in stores on Sundays. A bill that would allow local governments to hold referendums on the issue won overwhelming approval in the state House on Tuesday. The measure now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal, who has pledged to sign it though he has long said that he would vote against making sales legal in his hometown. Deal’s nuanced stand is appreciated. Voters — not legislative bodies or elected officials — should determine the fate of the sale of alcohol in stores on Sunday.

House approval of the legislation was expected. The legislation’s main hurdle was in the Senate, where heavy lobbying and emotional appeals by religious groups and the threat of a veto by then Gov. Sonny Perdue, a teetotaler, helped torpedo similar bills in each of the last few years. A well-coordinated push by pro-Sunday sales forces and Deal’s announcement that he would let the people decide if a bill did make it to his desk changed the political climate in the Senate.

Deal’s expected signature — neither he nor his staff have indicated when he might sight the bill — will allow city and county governments that choose to do so to schedule votes on Sunday package sales. That balloting could occur this year in locales with elections already scheduled in the fall. In communities where there are no elections scheduled in 2011, the question would appear on 2012 ballots. Whenever the vote is scheduled, the issue is sure to stir heated debate.

Those opposed to Sunday sales — the aforementioned religious conservatives and those who believe allowing the sales will contribute to high rates of alcohol consumption, alcoholism and alcohol-related traffic deaths — were stung by the bill’s approval on Tuesday. They promise, however, to continue the battle.

Jerry Luquire, president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, told members of the media that his group now will address the issue in two ways. It will strive to keep the Sunday sales issue off ballots and, failing that, work diligently to defeat the referendums at the polls. Other groups undoubtedly will join that effort.

Supporters of the measure to allow the expansion of Sunday alcohol sales to stores— beer, wine and liquor already is sold in bars and restaurants in many places across the state on Sunday — expect no less. They’re just happy that voters finally will have a chance to decide whether local-option Sunday sales are acceptable.

That view unites Deal and many legislators and residents who might disagree with him on other topics. Approval or rejection of Sunday store sales of alcohol is an issue best decided by individuals at the local level. The bill approved Tuesday and expected to be signed by Deal will give them the chance to do so.

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