Democrats criticize GOP for secret vote

ATLANTA --- Democratic state senators took the floor of the chamber Tuesday to criticize the secretive vote that Republicans used last week to bury a bill that would allow local voting on Sunday sales of alcohol.

Sen. Doug Stoner, D-Smyrna, said he learned the bill would not come up for debate or a vote in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution .

"Where was the debate made?" he asked. "Not on this floor. We had no discussion on this floor of this chamber of this issue."

He and others said they believed the move violated Senate rules about how legislation should be processed.

Stoner was a co-sponsor of the bipartisan legislation, Senate Bill 10, which got off to a fast start before meeting resistance, particularly from Christian conservatives.

Republicans slowed the bill, discussed it among themselves, then took a whip count, a secret vote among Republican senators, about whether to allow the bill to come to the floor. A majority of the 36-member caucus voted to not move forward with the bill, even though it had made its way through the committee process with a recommendation for debate and a vote. The caucus will not say what the final vote was.

Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, said he is trying to diffuse power rather than routing everything through a few powerful legislators, such as himself or the lieutenant governor.

"I am trying to move away from the system when one person makes a decision," he said.

Williams said the 36 Republican senators -- there are 20 Democrats in the Senate -- made the decision together, so the process let more people decide than had been involved in the past.

There is a similar bill in a House committee. Its fate is unclear.

A rally is scheduled for noon today on the west steps of the Capitol by Georgians who support local referendums to decide Sunday sales.


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