Georgia is one of three states that currently forbids stores to sell any kind of alcohol on Sunday. That long-standing law has been impervious to challenges, but earlier this year, proponents of such sales were convinced they could push a bill to allow local governments to hold referenda on the topic through the legislature. They had good reason to believe that was the case.
Many more legislators than in the past seemed willing to allow local voters to decide the fate of Sunday alcohol sales rather than allow the statewide ban to stand. Moreover, the governor was amenable to such a bill. Former Gov. Sonny Perdue, a teetotaler, vowed to veto any bill approving Sunday sales. His successor, Nathan Deal, also a nondrinker, thinks differently. He believes voters should accept or reject Sunday sales in their communities. He says he will sign legislation approving a vote if it reaches his desk.
Despite such favorable omens, a bill to allow such a vote was deep-sixed by the Republican majority in the Senate early in the session. Most observers agreed the bill was dead this year. Remarkably, it found new life in the last week or so, and appears headed for a vote in the Senate, perhaps as soon as today. Reasons for the turnaround abound.
Supporters say the merits of the bill speak for themselves. Detractors remain opposed, but believe they can defeat it. If that's the case, they say, allowing it to come up for a vote that will end in defeat serves their purpose. Still, no one in either party feels comfortable in making a prediction about the Senate's vote.
Supporters and opponents of the bill do not fall into customary groups. There is bipartisan support for the bill, just as there is bipartisan opposition to it. One example: Senate Majority Leader Chip Rodgers, a Woodstock Republican, and Doug Stoner, of Smyrna, the Senate Democratic Caucus chairman, rarely agree on anything, but both favor allowing a vote on Sunday alcohol sales. The arguments, pro and con, follow predictable paths.
Supporters of the bill say Sunday sales will increase state revenues and meet consumer desires. Opponents say moral, health and safety concerns, not money, are paramount. That's not necessarily so.
Those opposed to Sunday alcohol sales on religious grounds need not buy it then, but they should not force their beliefs on those who believe differently or those who might observe the Sabbath on a day other than Sunday. Besides, surveys indicate that drunken-driver rates remain pretty much the same whether or not Sunday sales are allowed. After all, those who want to drink on Sunday can buy their alcohol in advance, or drive to a nearby state where such sales are allowed.
There's no need for Georgia legislators to further debate Sunday sales of alcohol. They should advance the bill, and let the people vote. The decision properly belongs with local governments and with those they serve - not with legislators.