Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill Thursday morning allowing communities to approve Sunday alcohol sales at stores, and Gainesville City Council members agreed they will put it on the ballot.
"I don't care one bit about it, but I think we should let the citizens make the decision," Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan said during the morning work session. "I've seen other cities around the state starting to decide, and ours should be able to vote it up or down."
The legislation passed this year after five years of stalling amid pressure from religious groups and a veto threat from then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Many restaurants and bars in Georgia already sell alcohol on Sunday. The new law would let voters approve the sales by grocery and convenience stores.
However, local governments must first agree to put the measure on the ballot before voters can decide whether to approve it.
Only two states, Connecticut and Indiana, still have statewide bans on Sunday alcohol sales.
"Personally, I don't see any need to be hasty about it," council member George Wangemann said. "The state legislature didn't force us to do this, so my take is that anything that is bad morally creates bad public policy. I'd just as soon as keep it off."
City Clerk Denise Jordan will submit the referendum question to the Department of Justice for preclearance, which can take at least two months for completion. The question could appear on the ballot in November.
"The sooner we start the process, the better," Jordan said before council members knew Deal signed the bill Thursday morning. "Putting it on the November ballot would be cost effective for us."
Council members agreed they're not necessarily supporting the idea of Sunday sales, but they want residents to have the ability to vote on it.
"The council isn't pushing this, but the referendum should be there," Mayor Ruth Bruner said.
Wangemann pointed out that an approval could affect the community "eventually."
"That's where it could get bad," he said. "It may affect us all in some way."
Sunday sales supporters mounted a heavy lobbying effort this year after Perdue departed. A teetotaler, Perdue had opposed the push to extend alcohol sales to the Sabbath and urged Georgians to plan their time better if they wanted to purchase alcoholic beverages.
Deal, a Republican, signaled during his campaign for governor that he would sign the bill if it reached his desk. He said while he does not drink, he favors giving citizens the right to make the decision for themselves at the local level.
Deal had no comment Thursday. He signed the measure into law in a private ceremony with a handful of state legislators before heading to north Georgia to survey storm damage.
Council members voted for Jordan to move forward with the referendum question.
"Our citizens, like in any other municipality, should be able to vote," Dunagan said, ending the conversation. "That's democracy."
Associated Press contributed to this story