published Monday, March 21st, 2011

Sunday sales bill a hot topic

Javier Espitia, left, buys two packs of Coronita Extra from Jennifer Crisp, a cashier at Cox's Spirits, on Thursday in Dalton, Ga.
Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Javier Espitia, left, buys two packs of Coronita Extra from Jennifer Crisp, a cashier at Cox's Spirits, on Thursday in Dalton, Ga. Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Senate Bill 10
Senate Bill 10

As Georgia moves closer to allowing alcohol sales on Sunday, leaders in some rural communities say it will never happen where they live.

“Sunday is church day and God’s day in my book,” Trenton Mayor Barton Harris said. “If you can’t get it the other six days of the week, I think you’ve messed yourself up.”

The state Senate last week approved legislation that would allow counties and municipalities to vote on whether packaged alcohol, including beer, wine and hard liquor, can be sold in grocery and liquor stores on Sundays. It’s not the first time such a proposal has been heard in the General Assembly, but it’s the first time it has gotten this far.

The legislation, Senate Bill 10, now goes before the House, where lawmakers say it stands a good chance of being approved.

Georgia is one of only three states — along with Connecticut and Indiana — that still ban packaged alcohol sales on Sunday. But in the face of staunchly conservative religious values in Georgia, state officials have been reluctant to make any quick changes, experts say.

“Even 40 years ago, there were mostly dry counties,” said George Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. “It’s a gradual process that any type of alcohol is available.”

Yet for many people, morality isn’t the only consideration.

If lawmakers pass the Sunday sales bill, Dalton Mayor David Pennington said he will have it on the ballot in November. The current law makes no sense, he said.

“You can drink 20 margaritas in a restaurant but can’t sell a package of beer” on Sunday, Pennington said.

Plus, if Dalton residents were to approve Sunday alcohol sales and neighboring municipalities didn’t, the city of about 33,000 people would be more attractive to businesses and new residents, he said. And that could help boost its economy.

“Right now, we need all the help we can get,” he said.

MORALS VS. MODERN

Across Georgia, counties have polar differences in how alcohol can be sold, Bullock said. Some allow the sale of alcohol at a restaurant only with the purchase of a meal. Others don’t allow the sale of mixed drinks, just beer and wine. And still others remain dry.

Even if the Sunday-sales bill wins final legislative approval, many communities won’t even consider such a change, he said.

In Trenton — population about 2,000 — officials passed an ordinance last year to allow beer and wine to be sold in restaurants. Harris, the mayor, said he cast the deciding vote because people were frustrated with losing business.

“A lot of people just got tired of people driving to Hamilton County [for dinner],” Harris said.

Still, a number of local churches and community members criticized officials over the issue.

While Harris said he would oppose allowing alcohol to be sold on Sunday in Trenton, he didn’t see anything wrong with other counties and cities deciding for themselves.

John Smith, pastor of Piney Grove Baptist in Trenton, warned that allowing Sunday alcohol sales would be a “step into a steep spiral.”

He said church members aren’t trying to impose their beliefs on the community. “We’re just trying to protect Christian values,” he said.

“Making [alcohol] more accessible would make it more difficult for [those struggling],” said Smith, whose church hosts weekly AA meetings. “I’ve never seen alcohol added to any county that resulted in anything but harm.”

Georgia traditionally has valued morality, and this step in the General Assembly moves the state away from those principles, Smith said.

Some officials contend that only a small minority of the state’s residents oppose the change. And some residents aren’t buying the morality argument.

When Lance Edgar and his college buddies forget to plan ahead for the weekend, they must drive 40 miles from Dalton to Chattanooga to stock up on beer.

“I don’t understand it,” said Edgar, a senior at Dalton State College, shaking his head. “If selling alcohol on Sunday affects your ability to go to church, that’s pretty sad.”

POLITICAL BATTLE

Before the Senate bill passed by a vote of 32-22, the legislation was thought to have died. But on Wednesday, the annual Crossover Day — the last day for a bill to clear at least one chamber in order to be considered — the bill was revived.

Seventeen of 36 Republicans and five of 20 Democrats in the Senate voted against the bill.

Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, said he wrestled with the decision before finally voting yes. In the end, he said, he decided local government should have the option to decide on alcohol ordinances. Sunday sales is the only alcohol regulation that isn’t controlled on the local level, he said.

“There’s no disputing the fact it puts people at odds,” Bethel said.

Sen. Ed Harbison, D-Columbus, didn’t vote on Senate Bill 10. Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, said he would like local government to have the control, but his initial reaction is to vote against the bill.

“Generally speaking, I’d be opposed to it,” he said. “I think my district would be against.”

While Bethel said he understands the concerns about alcohol becoming more accessible if the bill passes, he doesn’t think that would affect the morality of the state’s residents.

“Hopefully, our faith is displayed more in our lives than our laws,” he said.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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chefdavid said...

We applaud Jeff Mullis for voting in favor of this bill.

March 21, 2011 at 5:49 a.m.
esaletnik said...

Conservatives are always advocating less government intrusion in our lives yet when it comes to a persons individual choice they want to tell you what you can and can't do.

March 21, 2011 at 8:20 a.m.
yarnmaster48 said...

if the church folks don't want to drink on sunday thats their choice. but don't tell the rest of us we can't. for to many years the churches have controled peoples lives , it's time to but out .

March 21, 2011 at 8:51 a.m.
Leaf said...

I applaud Libertarians4Freedoms's turnabout. I suppose we all are dictators at heart. We just have different values we want to impose on the peasantry. Still, some values are better than others.

March 21, 2011 at 10:43 a.m.
JESUSFIRST said...

THIS IS REALLY WHAT WE NEED ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY FOR MORE DRUNKS ON THE HIGHWAY. I GUESS THE STATE NEEDS THE EXTRA REVENUE FROM THE TAX AND ALL THE DUI FINES. I WONDER IF ALL THE JUDGES IN GEORGIA HAVE PAID ALL THEIR DUI FINES. **WINE IS A MOCKER AND STRONG DRINK IS RAGING AND WHOSOEVER IS DECEIVED THEREBY IS NOT WISE PROVERBS 20:1**

March 21, 2011 at 11:40 a.m.
sage1 said...

esaletnik Are you confused or was that a typo? You're partially correct. Conservatives DO advocate less governement intrusion, but it's the LIBERALS that want to re-write the Constitution and implement Socialism. You know, "If we think you need something we'll give it to you for free. If not, then you don't really need it."

March 21, 2011 at 12:01 p.m.
cnooga123 said...

Yea God knows I'd much rather have somebody go to Tifftonia and get drunk on margaritas and Mexican food than to go down to Ingles and pick up some steaks and beer or wine and grill out at home on a Sunday afternoon. Makes much better sense to me,I have the misfortune of currently living in the land that time forgot (Dade county)and I earn over 50K per year and my tax money is going to Tennessee along with me as soon as I find a new home. I'm looking every day and hope to be gone by April 1st. It's depressing just driving through that dumpy little town with all the little minded people.

March 21, 2011 at 4:29 p.m.
Libertine said...

Not only can the federal and state governments not establish a religion, neither can Trenton, mayor. It's about democracy and right, not forcing fundamentalist Christian values on others. If Trenton votes it down, fine. But, the people of Trenton should decide.

March 21, 2011 at 8:01 p.m.
hambone said...

think about all the small business people this will hurt. This bill will put the bootleggers all over Georgia out of work. What will replace that great Georgia tradition of doing to the bootlegger after church on sunday!

March 21, 2011 at 10:20 p.m.
chefdavid said...

Looks like the claim of more accidents and traffic deaths is false according to politifact. http://www.politifact.com/georgia/statements/2011/mar/18/georgia-state-senators/lawmakers-claim-sunday-alcohol-sales-proves-flawed/

March 22, 2011 at 6:59 a.m.
mrredskin said...

who are you dolts that dish out the GOP or liberal terminology? i'm mostly conservative and would fully support this change.

March 22, 2011 at 5:02 p.m.
facyspacy said...

Sunday or Monday or Tuesday.... why does is matter what day you buy it?... it is still legal. Sell it everyday or not at all- or move to Tennessee

March 22, 2011 at 9:37 p.m.
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