On Thursday, the South Carolina House approved by a third and final vote a local lawmaker’s proposal to allow the city of 22,000 to hold the referendum earlier than current law allows.
The procedural vote came just in time.
Tuesday marks a critical legislative deadline, Crossover Day, when bills must be sent to the opposite chamber or else face a much higher burden for passage.
The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration. If the bill does not pass into law this year, its supporters have warned that voters might not get to decide on the issue until April 2013.
On Wednesday, the South Carolina House passed the bill by a 91-11 vote. All dissenting lawmakers were Republicans except for House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-St. Matthews, who had challenged bill sponsor Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta, citing Republicans’ customary claims to “family values.”
Hixon introduced the bill, H. 5098, at the city of North Augusta’s request March 28. It drew co-sponsorships from House members Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, Jim Harrison, R-Columbia, Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, and Bill Taylor and Tom Young, both Republicans from Aiken.
North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones and other officials who support the change say the city has lost out on businesses that wanted to be able to sell alcohol on Sundays.
“I don’t think they will get a lot of revenue from Sunday sales, but I would like to remove any impediments that are keeping them from coming to North Augusta,” Jones said in an e-mail after the bill was introduced. “A tremendous opportunity is available here.”
The push is intended to level the field with nearby cities Augusta and Aiken.
Currently, a Sunday alcohol referendum is allowed during a city general election. H. 5098 would allow the referendum to be held during other elections, such as November’s presidential election, which will have a high voter turnout. It could also save taxpayers the cost of a special election.
Edgefield Republican Sen. Shane Massey introduced his version, S. 1381, at the end of March, but it has not progressed as far as the House version.