published Sunday, October 14th, 2012

Jasper changes alcohol sales ordinance

Billy Simpson, the mayor of Jasper, Tennessee
Billy Simpson, the mayor of Jasper, Tennessee
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

JASPER, Tenn. — After the Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved the annexation of the south side of U.S. Highway 41 to an area known as Shellmound Business Park, liquor-selling business owners in the newly annexed area said they should be allowed to stay open until 3 a.m.

Jasper's ordinance required those types of businesses to close at midnight and, at the time, City Attorney Mark Raines told those business owners they would have to comply with the town's rules.

When city officials found out those business owners were preparing to challenge the legality of the annexation, Raines dug deeper into state laws on the issue.

Raines said that in 2001 the state's original liquor-by-the-drink statute included a provision for municipalities to opt out of the hours it set, and Jasper did, choosing to set the closing time at midnight.

"About a year or two after that, the Legislature amended the beer sales statute to basically say that when you have a county that has not adopted liquor-by-the-drink, if any municipality in that county adopts it, the hours apply countywide," he said.

In 2002, Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers said it doesn't matter what local ordinances require.

"Even if you have an ordinance that says you can't sell alcohol past midnight, you still are governed by state law," Raines said. "State law trumps whatever the local ordinance is."

After discovering that businesses can sell alcohol after midnight, regardless of Jasper's ordinance, Raines recommended changing the municipal code to comply with state law.

Last week the board approved Ordinance 354, which changes beer and liquor-by-the-drink sales hours for premises consumption so Jasper will be in compliance with the state rule. The vote was 4-1.

"[The new ordinance] basically adopts the state law into our municipal code that sets the hours," Raines said.

Alderman Paul Evans, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said he contacted the Alcohol Beverage Commission on Monday, and an official told him Jasper's existing ordinance was in compliance with state law.

"That's not what the attorney general for the state of Tennessee says," Raines said. "I don't think, ultimately, that [ABC] is going to disagree with the state attorney general's opinion because that's who they call to get their legal advice anyway."

If it were just a matter of selling mixed drinks, he said, the town could have some control over the hours, but the provisions in the state's beer-selling law are different.

"Since these establishments are selling beer, the statute that was enacted regarding beer sales apparently governs, according to the attorney general of the state of Tennessee," he said.

"The county supersedes city, and the state supersedes the county and the city," Mayor Billy Simpson said. "I'm going with what we've got here in black and white. It's what the attorney general says."

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