Georgia Expands Sunday Sales Law

Well, it’s another Saturday here in Atlanta, so I need to make some decisions. The only beer I have in the house is homebrew. I’ve got plenty, but I need to decide whether I want to pick up some commercial beer as well. Since it’s Atlanta, though, I don’t need to decide whether I want to do this today, I need to decide for today AND tomorrow, because the Georgia Legislature is beholden to the Religious Right, and has made Sunday sales of alcohol illegal.

Well, as I’ve pointed out before, help is on the way. A bill was introduced to legalize the Sunday sales of beer and wine. But it began to take fire from liquor distributors who were legitimately upset that liquor wasn’t included, only beer and wine. Well, they’ve made some changes, and the law got even better.

Sen. Seth Harp, R-Midland, said the plans were designed to address criticisms of a bill he previously had introduced, which would have let communities decide whether to legalize the take-home sale of beer and wine on Sundays.

The new proposals would add liquor sales to the plan’s options and give communities the choice of allowing alcohol sales only after noon — when church services traditionally end. An unusual coalition of religious conservatives and liquor distributors had lined up against Harp’s original bill.

Representatives of at least some of those liquor groups say they now support the effort.
‘‘Now that the bill includes spirits, it is the right bill for Georgia,’’ said Jay Hibbard, a vice president with the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. ‘‘The overwhelming majority of Georgians support Sunday sales, and it’s going to allow that overwhelming majority the opportunity to decide for themselves.’’

While I’m ideologically opposed to the noon restriction, it doesn’t seem onerous enough to fight over. After all, on the East Coast football doesn’t start until 1 PM, so it’s not like those folks out west who have to be ready by 10 AM. But the fact that they’re opening this to liquor makes things very good, because most of the really good, hard to find beers and wines aren’t available at grocery stores. Without the ability to sell liquor, it’s unclear whether it would have made financial sense for the dedicated liquor stores to be open.

But, alas, it’s still going to be a tough fight, against people who have nothing better to do than try to meddle in our lives to assuage their own moral concerns. Unfortunately, that includes the governor:

‘‘We obviously will still oppose the bill, obviously for the same reasons,’’ said Sadie Fields, director of the Georgia Christian Alliance. ‘‘I grew up in an era when everything was closed on Sunday — now we’ve encroached on the day and turned it into just another day.’’ Fields said she appreciated Harp ‘‘recognizing that part of the Sabbath when people are in church,’’ but that the noon option doesn’t change her mind on the plan.

Supporters of Sunday sales still have a lot of work to do if the plan is to be approved by the Legislature this year. Even if it clears both chambers, Gov. Sonny Perdue, who says he does not drink alcohol, has said it would take ‘‘a lot of persuasion’’ for him to sign it.

I challenge the Georgia legislature to overwhelmingly pass this bill. I want it to show up on Sonny’s desk with the knowledge that he’ll look like the jerk if he vetoes it. A 55%-45% vote in the legislature gives him far too much political cover to veto a bill that 80% of metro Atlanta residents and 68% of the statewide population want to see passed. If this comes to Sonny’s desk after a 70% vote, though, and he vetoes the bill, it will show the state of Georgia that he’s acting purely at the behest of the middle-Georgia religious conservatives, folks that wouldn’t be forced to legalize the sales in their own communities anyway.

Georgia, it’s time to join the 21st Century.

  • Frank Tyrrell

    Dragging Georgia laws of any type into the 21st Century is a daunting task. Alcohol sales on Sunday is at the top of the heap. And no matter how its opponents attempt to disguise it, the ban on Sunday sales is an illegal joining of church and state. Christ, protect me from your followers.