ATLANTA -- Georgia could soon join the 47 other states in allowing the sale of packaged alcohol on Sunday afternoons if the House matches the Senate’s Wednesday vote.
The Senate voted 32-22 for Senate Bill 10 which would allow local voters to decide if they want to permit the sale of bottled beer, wine and distilled beverages. Georgia already lets communities decide if they want to allow the sale of booze by the drink.
Proponents of SB 10 said it makes little sense to permit drinking in restaurants and bars on Sundays where people still have to drive home while not allowing them to buy on those same days for home consumption.
“We have to vote on this because of what’s already in the existing law,” said Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Bulloch, R-Ochlocknee, said he is sympathetic to concerns about safety on the roads or the possibility of family violence from people who drink but that since alcohol is already readily available his bill won’t be to blame.
“It does not create one drop of alcohol to be sold,” he said. “... Obesity kills a lot more than the consumption of alcohol.”
Opponents tried to weaken the bill with amendments, but all were defeated. One, for example by Sen. Hardie Davis, would have extended the period in which sales are prohibited from 11:30 Sunday mornings to 2 p.m.
“So we can remember the sanctuaries, the houses of worship, as opposed to opening the doors of the places of worship and the first thing I see is the dispensing of alcohol libation and spirits other than the Holy Spirit,” said Davis, an Augusta Democrat who is also a minister.
Preserving the sanctity of Sundays also motivated Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, to vote no. He compared it to abortion by saying that public opinion changed on abortion when the courts ruled it legal.
“When you change the law, people will believe the law, whether you tell them the right thing or the wrong thing,” he said.
Sen. Bill Cowsert, an attorney, said he’s only been involved in two drunk-driving cases in his career that occurred on Sundays but that changing the law will increase those accidents.
“Common sense tells you that you are going to have more drinking and driving on Sundays if we pass this bill,” said the Athens Republican.
Grocery stores and convenience stores lobbied for the bill, describing it as a service for their customers. On the other hand, package stores opposed it because they don’t want to bear the expense of being open for a seventh day during the week to prevent loss of business to competitors who are already open on Sundays.
“This is not driven by some clamoring of the public but by the grocery stores because their research shows they can increase their sales by 13 percent,” Cowsert said.
The bill almost didn’t come to a vote this session at all. It sailed out of committee in the House and Senate in separate bills after Gov. Nathan Deal told reporters in January that he would sign it because it permits local voters to have a say.
Then the Republican senators voted behind closed doors not to bring it before the full Senate for a recorded vote. The House put the brakes on its version, preferring to avoid a controversial recorded vote on a bill that stands no chance of becoming law.
Heavy lobbying by groups on both sides, including from the grassroots, apparently wore opponents down to where they were ready to get the matter behind them.
“I think we have to vote on it,” said Williams, the highest-ranking senator as president pro tempore. “The author deserves a vote.”