published Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Majority favor Sunday sales

Until Tuesday, Georgia was only one of three states — Connecticut and Indiana were the others — that did not allow the package sale of alcohol on Sunday. That's no longer true. Voters approved Sunday sales in more than the 120 cities and counties across the state where referendums were held Tuesday. The yeas might have carried the day, but there were significant exceptions, proving that the issue is still divisive.

Voters in Northwest Georgia fit that pattern. While the measure to allow sales was approved in Dalton, Cohutta, Lookout Mountain, Eton and in 51 of 52 jurisdictions in the Atlanta metro area with the issue on the ballot, it failed in Fort Oglethorpe, Varnell, Tunnel Hill, Americus, Brunswick, Albany and Waycross. In places where it is now allowed, Sunday sales will start between the end of this month and early in the coming year. Local, not state, rules will determine the exact dates and times when sales begin.

Not all Georgians had the opportunity to vote on Sunday sales, but most will in the future. Many jurisdictions chose not to put the issue on the off-year ballot after the Georgia Legislature approved a law earlier allowing local governments to do so. Many cities and counties, though, have indicated the issue will be on the ballot in 2012.

In the places where the initiative was on Tuesday's ballot, it had a more than 80 percent success rate. That's according to the Georgia Food Industry Association, a supporter of Sunday sales. By the group's calculations, about two-thirds of the more than 266,000 voters who voted on the issue approved it by margins that ranged from 55 percent to more than 90 percent. Perhaps that's because the those opposed to Sunday sales were unable to mount an effective campaign.

The Georgia Christian Coalition attempted to create such a coalition, but failed to build statewide interest. In some areas like Fort Oglethorpe, churches and other groups did work together successfully to defeat Sunday sales. Such success, however, was more the exception than the rule Tuesday.

For years, Georgia's Legislature, lobbied hard by religious groups, refused to allow a public vote on Sunday alcohol sales. In recent years, they were abetted by former Gov. Sonny Perdue, a teetotaler who vowed to veto any bill allowing local control of the issue. Current Gov. Nathan Deal, also a non-drinker, wisely took a different path. He said voters had the right to decide the fate of Sunday sales, and signed the bill allowing local referendums.

Not all Georgians will be happy with Tuesday's vote, but every resident should celebrate the fact that voters -- not legislators -- were allowed to determine the fate of Sunday alcohol sales in their communities. That's democracy in action.

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