Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill last week that allows communities in the state to vote on Sunday alcohol sales at stores. The governor's approval attracted little attention, and understandably so. Many Georgians were occupied by more pressing issues - the death and destruction visited on the northern part of the state by a massive outbreak of tornadoes. Local officials, however, were aware of Deal's act. Several communities - including Dalton in Whitfield County - immediately took steps to put the issue on the November ballot.
Indeed, members of the Dalton City Council voted unanimously on Monday to put the question before voters in the fall. The vote in favor of the referendum was unanimous. If approved, it would allow beer and wine but not distilled spirits to be sold between 12:30 and 11:30 p.m. The referendum is appropriate. The decision on such sales is best left to voters, not to a handful of elected officials who might be swayed by special interest groups or personal preference.
The referendum undoubtedly will stir spirited confrontations between those who favor sales and those who do not. That certainly was the case whenever the issue came up in the General Assembly, where religious groups led opposition that successfully stalled Sunday sales bills for years. Those efforts were abetted by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue's pledge to veto any legislation related to expanded alcohol sales. Deal's election quickly changed the long-standing political equation on the topic.
Deal, a nondrinker like Perdue, made it clear from the outset that he did not believe his personal preferences should play a role in this kind of legislation. He said he would sign a Sunday alcohol sales bill as long as it permitted local communities to vote on the issue. Legislators crafted such a bill, and Deal honored his promise. He should be commended for doing so.
Georgians - in Dalton and in other communities that put Sunday sales on the ballot - should be allowed to vote their conscience. The sale of alcohol on Sunday is a divisive and sensitive issue that requires a public airing and community-based resolution. The November referendum provides both.