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Gainesville could put Sunday sales on ballot this year
Countywide vote couldnt happen until 2012 elections
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Hall County

On-site consumption (Restaurants)

By-the-glass: Beer, wine, liquor
Hours: 11 a.m. to 12:45 a.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday. All alcohol must be removed by 15 minutes after closing time.
Restrictions: Alcohol must be secondary to food sales, and business must maintain at least $3,000 in food sales monthly.
Happy hour: No

Off-site consumption (Grocery, convenience stores)

For purchase: Beer, wine
Package stores: No
Hours: 7 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Monday-Saturday

Gainesville

On-site consumption (Restaurants)
By-the-glass: Beer, wine, liquor
Hours: 8 a.m. - 1:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday; 12:30 p.m. Sunday to 1:30 a.m. All alcohol must be removed by 45 minutes after closing time.
Restrictions: Must maintain $1,500 in food sales monthly. Food sales must be at least 50 percent of all sales measured quarterly.
Happy hour: 5 - 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Drinks no less than half price.

Off-site consumption (Grocery, convenience, package stores)
For purchase: Beer, wine, liquor
Package stores: Yes
Hours: 7 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Monday-Saturday

If Gov. Nathan Deal signs a bill that would allow alcohol sales on Sundays, Gainesville residents could vote on it as early as November.

Senate Bill 10, which the House approved Tuesday by a 127-44 vote, allows city councils and county commissions to call for referendums to let voters decide if they want to purchase alcohol on Sundays at retail stores.

The item could go on the ballot in November, when Gainesville will hold municipal elections. A countywide vote wouldn't come up until the presidential preference primary in February or March or the general primary election in July.

"Honestly, I haven't thought about it. The council will hear some citizen input and make a decision," said Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan. "We'll talk about it and see what the people have to say. November would be a good time to put it on the ballot."

When the legislation gained traction in February, Mayor Ruth Bruner said Gainesville would likely put the referendum up for a vote to gauge opinions, and other council members tend to agree.

"Personally, I'm not going to buy it, but people have the right to vote on it," said council member Myrtle Figueras. "I would rather the bill not pass, but people should have their say."

Georgia is one of only three states with a complete ban on Sunday alcohol sales at stores. Georgians can already buy beer, wine and liquor at restaurants and bars on Sunday in many locations.

Areas that currently permit the sale of wine and malt beverages would be able to offer a vote on selling the same products on Sunday between 12:30 to 11:30 p.m. Those that also allow the sale of liquor could include that on the referendum as well.

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue promised to veto Sunday sales legislation, and any legislation has stalled in the Senate since 2007. When Perdue left office in January, supporters poured resources into some of the top Capitol lobbyists, and the bill gained strong backing from grocery stores and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

The bill zoomed through a Senate committee in February, but a handful of Senate Republican leaders stalled the legislation for weeks. It passed 32-22 in March, opening the door for a House vote for the first time.

Hall County's delegation was split on the decision Tuesday night, with Rep. James Mills and Rep. Doug Collins, both Gainesville Republicans, opposing the measure. Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, and Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, voted for the bill.

Deal told reporters Wednesday at the Capitol he would sign the bill. Though he said he would vote against legalizing Sunday sales in his own community, Deal won't tell local governments what to do.

"We just give them the option to do that," he said.

"I certainly do not encourage them one way or another. I view this as an issue that local government has a better feel for."

Religious conservatives fought the bill, arguing that it was an attempt to knock down the Christian Sabbath. They also said it would lead to an increase in alcohol-related traffic deaths.

Jerry Luquire, president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, said his group will continue grassroots efforts to keep the issue off local ballots or defeat it at the polls.

Others believe the change could help during a tough economy.

"The state will allow us to charge an additional license fee for businesses that do want Sunday sales, which wouldn't be a huge amount of income, but it would get some income coming in," Susan Rector, Hall County's business license director, told county finance officials during a budget hearing Wednesday.

"People have been calling me every week to ask if this bill would pass," she said. "People are interested, and they're going to find alcohol where it is, even across county lines."

Several county commissioners have discussed the idea, noting a vote wouldn't come to Hall County until a 2012 election.

"I firmly believe that the citizens have the right to decide," said commissioner Craig Lutz. "It's a very polarizing issue, and there are a lot of factors to weigh, so we'll have to sit back and look at what everyone is saying."

Commissioner Scott Gibbs compared it to a recent referendum vote to send out two tax bills in Hall County. Though he disagreed with the idea, he voted for the measure once voters gave it a thumbs up at the polls.

"I don't care and I don't drink, but if people want alcohol, they're going to get it somewhere," he said. "This could give us the opportunity to get some additional revenue if voters decide that's what they want."

Associated Press contributed to this story

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