Budget holds blue laws' end

COLUMBIA - Shoppers across South Carolina could buy nonfood items before 1:30 p.m. on Sundays under a provision attached to the annual House budget proposal.

 

Alcohol sales still would be banned, and employees still could choose not to work on Sundays, said the amendment's sponsor, Rep. Ted Pitts, R-Lexington.

But the provision effectively would end the state's "blue law" that prohibits the sale of clothes, housewares and other items before 1:30 p.m. on Sundays.

Mr. Pitts sponsored a bill last year intended to end the blue law. The House passed the bill, but it got stuck in the Senate.

Mr. Pitts said this year he attached the provision to the budget "as a way to make the Senate take it up."

All but nine counties now are required to follow the law.

Three counties - Anderson, Pickens and Spartanburg - voted to exempt themselves.

Six others - Beaufort, Charleston, Georgetown, Greenville, Horry and Richland - are automatically exempt because they take in at least $900,000 in accommodations taxes each year.

Mr. Pitts' provision would exempt any county that takes in at least $900 in accommodations taxes each year.

All 46 counties meet that requirement, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Mr. Pitts said the prohibition is particularly troublesome in counties such as Lexington that border and compete with exempted counties.

"I just feel like it's the business owner's decision," he said.

Because it's written into the annual budget, Mr. Pitts' provision would be good for one year only.

He's pushing a related bill, however, that would end the Sunday sales prohibition permanently.

At least one opponent, Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, said he hasn't changed his mind.

Blue laws are about family and religion, Mr. Fair said.

"For years, I have fought (for) blue laws on the basis that the hourly workers do not benefit from the repeal of blue laws," he said. "They are the ones that are forced to work during family times."

Yes, employees can tell their employers that they choose not to work on Sundays, but, Mr. Fair said, "It's my view that ... these employees will not ... be hired if they (say) they're not willing to work on Sundays."

Reach Kirsten Singleton at (803) 414-6611 or kirsten.singleton@morris.com.