Let them vote! 

Politics stalls local referendums on Sunday alcohol sales

Senate Bill 137, introduced during last year's legislative session, would have allowed counties and municipalities that authorize the sale of alcohol to permit retail package sales on Sundays, if approved by local referendum. The bill was passed out of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee with a favorable report, but never made it to the floor for a vote. The bill has been reintroduced this year, championed by free-market Republicans, retailers and, of course, NFL football fans, but it likely faces a similar fate.

The bill remains in committee. Chairman David Shafer is a member of the Republican Liberty Caucus, which supports the legislation. Although committee Vice Chairman Eric Johnson is opposed to the bill, he is on record as saying he doesn't believe in bottling up legislation and would like to see it brought up for a vote. Still, the fact that it faces opposition from both the governor and lieutenant governor, and did not make it out of the Rules Committee last year, has legislators hesitant to go out on a limb.

They might want to listen to their constituents. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said through his spokeswoman recently that he saw no real demand for Sunday sales, and Johnson said, "There doesn't seem to be a compelling reason to chip away at the Sabbath." However, a recent AJC poll indicated that two-thirds of Georgians are in favor of allowing local referendums. The support is even higher in the metropolitan Atlanta area. And an online petition had more than 35,000 signatures by early Monday.

This means little to the teetotaling Perdue, who said last year that he felt liquor laws are not the kind of things that should be decided by referendum. "[T]hat's why we have representative government, where people elect their own legislators to come and make these kinds of decisions," he said on Q100's "Bert Show." "You have to always be attuned to where public opinion is, but it doesn't necessarily mean you have to follow that. A good leader always leads in a way they think is the right direction for Georgia." He went on to say the current law also helps Georgians with their "time management."

It seems unlikely that the governor is going to block the democratic process on the basis of his constituents' time-management issues. And the paternalistic lesson is clearly a diversionary tactic. The fact is that Perdue knows, once thrown to the people, Sunday sales will go the way of liquor by the drink, gradually being approved statewide, and he is against it. So he has taken it upon himself to assure it will not come to a vote.

The spokespeople for the Sunday sales crowd have been the retailers, and there is a good reason for that, since politicians are more likely to listen to complaints from business leaders about money lost than to citizens griping about separation of church and state or civil liberties. But the consumers (that is to say the voters) need to be heard on this issue as well. If you'd like to see this go to a vote, sign the petition, and write to your legislator and the members of the Regulated Industries and Rules committees expressing your support for SB 137. Indicate that you would like to see it brought to the floor of the Senate for a vote and that the issue is important to you. You can find your state legislators here.

Contact information for key players in the Sunday sales legislation is provided below:

Gov. Sonny Perdue

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, 404-656-5030

Sen. David Shafer, R--Duluth, chairman of the Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee: david.schafer@senate.ga.gov, 404-656-0048

Sen. Eric Johnson, R--Savannah, vice chairman of Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee and president pro-tempore of the Senate: eric.johnson@senate.ga.gov, 404-656-5109

Sen. Don Balfour, R--Snellville, chairman of Rules Committee: don.balfour@senate.ga.gov, 404-656-0095

Check out Jeff's beer pick of the week here.


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