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Cagle won’t stand in way of statewide vote on Sunday alcohol sales

POSTED: May 18, 2008 5:01 a.m.

There is an exchange program of sorts that takes place on either side of the Chattahoochee River at Columbus.

On the Georgia side, Alabama residents come across the bridge to buy Georgia lottery tickets, while Georgians go on Sunday to buy package beer and wine at the Piggly Wiggly in Phenix City, Ala.

Jim Tudor would like to see one part of that exchange, the Georgians buying beer in Alabama, come to an end.

"It’s directly across the river," said Tudor, president of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores. The association and other retailers have advocated a change in Georgia law to allow communities to decide on Sunday package alcohol sales.

The idea gained some momentum in the Georgia House, but got nowhere in the Senate. Proponents considered Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle as a force of resistance on the bill.

This week, Cagle’s office began mailing letters responding to letters in support of Sunday sales.

"As you know, this has been a challenging issue for the state legislature," Cagle wrote in the letter. He went on to say that while he would oppose such a move on religious grounds, he would not oppose a referendum allowing voters to make the choice.

"While I would vote against such a change at the ballot box, I do not believe the legislature should deny voters a chance to make this choice for themselves and their community," he said in the letter.

His spokeswoman, Jailene Hunter, said the matter is up to the Senate.

"The lieutenant governor will allow a floor vote on a Sunday sales referendum if the members of the Senate wish to do so," Hunter said. "If there is not support from the membership of the Senate, he does not plan to force the issue."

The letter, however, was encouraging news to Tudor and the convenience store group.

"We’re certainly hopeful there’s a real chance," Tudor said. "It’s an issue that the polls show that a majority of Georgians would like the right to vote on this."

But the Rev. Matt Wethington, pastor of Riverbend Baptist Church, makes it clear how he would ask his congregation to vote.

"I understand there is tax revenue and alcohol permits at stake," Wethington said. "The people who are proponents of this have never sat across the table from a mom and dad whose child was killed by a drunk driver. They’ve never dealt with a woman whose husband has either left or abused them because of alcohol."

The Rev. Ray Newman, an ethics and public affairs specialist for the Georgia Baptist Convention, was among those speaking against the bill when it came before a House committee earlier this year.

"I feel like it’s an encroachment on the Lord’s day," Newman said Wednesday. "They have six days when they can buy all (the alcohol) they want. That’s not the issue. The issue is further encroachment on the Lord’s day, and we feel like it shouldn’t be done."

Georgia is currently one of three states that do not allow package sales on Sunday.

Wethington said that’s fine with him. "Let’s be one of three states. What if we’re the only state, then praise the Lord."



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