ATLANTA — State Rep. Amos Amerson will defend a bill in a House subcommittee today that would give local governments the power to call for a referendum on liquor sales.
Right now, Georgia law requires that 35 percent of the registered voters in a given jurisdiction — be it a county or a city — have to sign a petition before the question of liquor sales in their hometown ever makes it to the ballot. In Hall County, that means garnering the signatures of some 28,000 people.
Amerson, R-Dahlonega, says that's too restrictive.
His proposed bill, House Bill 849, provides a second avenue for liquor votes.
But that proposal has some curious opposition. A key lobbyist for liquor stores in Georgia says his group is against Amerson's plans.
Ed McGill, the executive director of the Georgia Alcohol Dealers Association, said the group's opposition to the bills is a matter of fairness to the businesses who jumped through the legal hoops to "wet" their counties.
"To just arbitrarily say ‘oh, the rest of you guys don't have to do that' is blatantly unfair," said McGill. "It's unfair to the people who are already in business."
McGill shrugs off any notion that the current policy for liquor votes is too restrictive, saying that "the largest counties in Georgia" have already met the current law's signature thresholds.
"A large percentage of the Georgia public live in areas that have already been through the process to call for a referendum through the 35 percent (petition) process," said McGill. "Every other business in Georgia who (has) invested in a package liquor store (has) invested in that business ... based on the policy and the laws and regulations of the state of Georgia. They went through the same process."
Last year, the Georgia Alcohol Dealers Association took credit for the defeat of a similar bill, which was also penned by Amerson.
Instead of giving local governing authorities the ability to call for the referendum, Amerson's previous bill simply sought to reduce the number of signatures required from 35 to 5 percent. Current laws put the brakes on a ballot question that voters in Hall County would have decided in March, surveying whether residents in unincorporated areas wanted package sales of liquor. Voters will still decide whether they want Sunday alcohol package sales of beer and wine and to buy liquor-by-the drink on Sundays. Packaged liquor can be sold in Hall's municipalities.
Amerson said he does not understand the lobbyists' opposition to his bill.
But Amerson does think he has a little more support for this year's bill than he did last year, when the Georgia Alcohol Dealers Association took credit for its defeat.
Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, has signed onto this version of Amerson's bill.
And also coming to Amerson's defense today will be a number of Hall County's elected officials.
Members of the Hall County Board of Commissioners say it's too difficult to have a referendum on packaged liquor sales. Some of them, including Chairman Tom Oliver and Commissioner Scott Gibbs, are traveling to Atlanta today to tell the House subcommittee on regulated industries exactly that.