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Alcohol bill likely dead for this year

GOP: Support for Sunday sales not strong enough

POSTED: February 17, 2011 11:55 p.m.

Despite an early start with little opposition, the issue of Sunday alcohol sales is likely dead for this year's legislative session.

The Republican caucus Thursday took a straw poll that determined the Sunday sales bill didn't have the support to move forward.

Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, would not discuss the caucus meeting because of a confidentiality agreement but said opposition to the Sunday sales bill became present only after a committee hearing.

Miller is chairman of the State and Local Governmental Operations Committee, which held the hearing earlier this month.

"It was certainly odd that there was no opposition during the hearing and so much opposition after the hearing," said Miller, who has maintained neutrality on the matter. "People who voted it out of committee were not voting it to become law. They were voting it out of committee. They heard all the testimony and there was very little discussion because there was no opposition to it."

Miller believes many assumed the bill was destined for success, even though it was a long way from becoming law.

"I remember seeing several headlines that this bill has been decided. It was so far from the fact it was ridiculous," Miller said. "I think a lot of people got the cart ahead of the horse on this bill. We didn't have a count as to where people were. Really it was too early to discuss whether people were for it or against it. It was a hearing process."

Jerry Luquire, president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, sees the caucus meeting as a positive sign.

"The Georgia Christian Coalition sees the near death of the Sunday alcohol bill in the Senate as an embarrassment for Gov. Deal who supported the measure," Luquire said. "The lieutenant governor who maneuvered the bill he favored into the wrong committee must now cope with senators who have their own thoughts and who have gained respect for the action of the grass rooters who told them by phone, letters, e-mail and though local elected officials, ‘let's keep the cork in this bottle.' "

Georgia is one of only three states that still forbids stores from selling alcohol on Sunday.

Senate Bill 10 would let voters decide in local referendums whether they want the sales between 12:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. The issue could be put on the ballot as soon as this fall.

After breezing through committees with no opposition from Christian conservatives or liquor sales groups, the proposal seemed headed for a vote in the legislature after years of stonewalling by former Gov. Sonny Perdue. Many lawmakers touted the issue — which would offer municipalities the option of putting the question to citizens — as one for voters, not values.

Supporters said it was unfair that grocery and liquor stores were forced to shelve their alcohol on Sundays, while restaurants and stadiums could serve beer, wine and spirits. Others complained that Georgia's businesses near the state line are losing to their counterparts in neighboring states that allow Sunday sales.

Opposition groups initially vowed to fight the issue locally, but soon returned to the Gold Dome, pressuring lawmakers to kill the bill before it hit Georgia communities.

Neither side was willing to concede defeat Thursday.

"It is still very early in the session and we are confident that the Georgia state Senate will choose to let their constituents' voices be heard," said Kathy Kuzava, president of the Georgia Food Industry Association.

There are 24 days left in the 2011 legislative session.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

 



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