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Sunday alcohol sales versus local control

For a conservative-controlled statehouse, proposed legislation involving Sunday alcohol sales presents quite a conundrum.

On the one hand, legislators such as Pickens County’s Rick Jasperse, have expressed aversion to supporting legislation that involves selling beer, wine and liquor from convenience stores, grocery stores and liquor stores on the Sabbath.

On the other hand, the legislation now muddling away in Atlanta doesn’t by itself allow anyone to sell 12-packs on Sunday. What it’s about is local control.

Governor Nathan Deal has struck the correct tone: he has said he would sign legislation if passed by the house and senate and let local people decide for themselves if they want Sunday sales.

Georgia is one of only three states that doesn’t leave Sunday alcohol sales up to local communities.

If passed, the legislation in Atlanta would only open up the question at the county and municipal level. By itself, the legislation will not allow any new sales of alcohol. One outcome could be that when state government gives up control over alcohol sales, local governments or voters could still say no if they choose to.

That said, more conservative communities than expected might approve Sunday sales. Jasper (not exactly a libertine Atlanta enclave) passed Sunday pouring rights for restaurants in November 2008. Pro-alcohol voters posted 664 of the 1,164 votes cast.

As for actual Sunday sales by the package, there are pros and cons to that question. Opponents to the selling of alcohol on Sunday generally take their stand based on religion, tradition and public safety. The strong tradition here against Sunday drinking is one hard to ignore. We’ve gotten along fine in Georgia for years unable to buy 12-packs on Sunday. If it seems good in the sight of God and family counselors to have a day set aside for family time without alcohol, why not stay with that?

Still, it just doesn’t seem realistic to suggest the prospect of being suddenly allowed to buy Sunday beer would destroy what’s left of the modern American family ideal.

The idea that Sunday alcohol sales by the package would increase drunk drivers sounds tenuous as well. In the first place, hardcore drinkers can easily stock up the day before Sunday. Folks hosting big parties for Sunday sports events always plan ahead. To cut down on drunk drivers, missed family time, and debauchery on Sunday, maybe legislators should look at banning broadcasts of big games and races that day instead.

Grocery lobbyists point out, from a DUI standpoint, it may be safer to allow people to buy beer, wine or liquor at a store and take it home instead of encouraging them to drive to a restaurant to drink and then drive home.

After all, alcohol is still being served in Georgia on Sunday. It’s just a matter of how far you make someone go to consume it and, more importantly, how far they must drive home afterwards.

Those in favor of Sunday sales by the package argue:

• There is unfairness in allowing restaurants to serve alcohol on Sunday by the drink (in many areas) while grocery stores cannot sell it by the box.

• Grocery store lobbyists say Sunday is one of their highest volume shopping days in the state. They argue it is a matter of convenience for working people to be allowed to buy their beer and wine while they are out, instead of requiring a second trip.

• Financially the state would benefit from the extra day of alcohol sales but probably not by a tremendous amount. The AJC looked at that and concluded there would be some additional revenue, but it might not be to the extent some proponents are claiming.

Ultimately there are points to be made on both sides of the package sale question. But at this round, we support moving the question to the local level. We may or may not need alcohol sales in Pickens County on Sundays, but we should at least be allowed to decide for ourselves.

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