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Hall County looks to stiffen penalties for selling alcohol to underage buyers

POSTED: February 24, 2009 11:37 p.m.
SCOTT ROGERS /The Times

Emmet Goss, right, checks the driver's license of Altelmo Luna on Tuesday afternoon at Goss' business 129 Package Store before selling him beer. The Hall County commission will consider some changes to the alcohol beverage code at its Thursday meeting after a couple of businesses were cited for selling alcohol to minors. Goss' business was not one of those cited.

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Businesses beware: The Hall County Board of Commissioners may begin cracking down on those who repeatedly sell alcohol to minors.

There will be a public hearing regarding changes to the county’s penalties for alcoholic beverage code violations at the commission’s 3 p.m. meeting Thursday.

Commissioner Ashley Bell requested the change after two cases of alcoholic beverage code violation were brought before the commission in January.

Marathon Food Mart on Thompson Bridge Road was caught selling to a minor for the first time, but it was the second violation for Meeks Grocery on Atlanta Highway.

Business License Director Susan Rector said the commission has liberty to set penalties now, though there are guidelines. Punishment for the first offense is completely up to the commission, which typically votes to suspend a license for 15 days. The second offense is a minimum of 30 days but can be more at the commission’s discretion. The third offense results in the loss of the alcoholic beverage license, Rector said.

Bell’s concern is mainly with the punishment for two-time violators.

On a second offense, the code currently calls for a 30-day suspension. Bell proposes changing that 30-day suspension to a 90-day suspension when the second offense is within three years of the first offense, Rector said.

"That distinction is a big part of the change in the code," Bell said. "We’re going to give some credit to those businesses that have been in business for a while. But if you’re in business and you’ve done this twice in three years, you have fundamentally flawed business practices. And if you’re going to have fundamentally flawed business practices, we don’t want you selling alcohol at all in Hall County, and that’s the message we want to send."

Aside from changing the penalty, Bell wants to make sure violators serve their suspensions.

In the past, businesses have transferred a liquor license to another employee in order to avoid the consequences.

"One thing that I definitely wanted to address when working with the county attorney to draft this ordinance was to close the loophole that allows convenience stores to go unpunished for selling alcohol to minors," Bell said. "What we’ve done to close that loophole is make it so if you’re going to transfer a liquor license in Hall County, you have to sign an affidavit saying that if you’re the person transferring the license, you do not have currently pending any violations with the state for selling alcohol to minors."

Those receiving a license also would have to certify that there are no pending violations on that license. If there are, they could face going before the commission and serving the license suspension as though the business was theirs at the time of the violation.

The changes in the code would apply to all vendors of alcoholic beverages.

"Our primary problem area has been convenience stores, but it applies to everybody," Bell said.



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