Sunday alcohol sales prove popular with most voters
By Johnny Edwards
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia's age-old, all-out ban on buying beer, wine and liquor at shops on Sunday has met its end.
Early poll results had voters in most of the 51 metro Atlanta jurisdictions giving a resounding yes Tuesday to seven days of package sales in referendums, continuing the slow dissolution of a blue law dating to the late 1800s, one of the last restraints on Sunday consumption.
But at least one city said no -- Clayton County's Forest Park. Mayor Corine Deyton said it was the right choice.
"That's the Lord's day, in my opinion," said Deyton, a Sunday school teacher whose son is a Baptist music minister. "If you can't do without alcohol one day a week, there's something bad wrong with you."
But, for the most part, voters in metro Atlanta sided against Deyton on Tuesday.
“The results of today’s election,” Georgia Food Industry Association lobbyist Kathy Kuzava said, “have shown that the vast majority of voters overwhelmingly support the opportunity to purchase all of their groceries, including beer and wine, seven days per week.”
Don't go dropping 12-packs on the checkout conveyer belt just yet. Stores that can offer the sales will be spotty throughout the area, and in places where voters approved, effective dates will vary, ranging from the second Sunday after election results get certified to perhaps as late as February.
Snellville Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer, a supporter of Sunday sales, said he thought his city’s alcohol vote would be closer.
“My son said Jack Daniels is the most popular politician in Snellville.”
The overwhelming sentiment at the polls Tuesday: Stop inconveniencing shoppers with a mix of church and state.
"It's really a religion issue that shouldn't be regulated by the state," attorney Leah Brohm said as she left her polling place in the gym at Sandy Springs' Hammond Park.
Before the state Legislature earlier this year gave cities and counties the option of permitting Sunday sales with voter approval, Georgia was the only Southern state -- and one of three states nationwide -- that still had such a ban.
That fact wasn't lost on Atlanta voter Sarah Mauldin, who recalls working in ticket sales during the 1996 Olympics and hearing out-of-state visitors grumble about the Sunday rules.
"We are one of the last states to attempt this, and we want to be the leader of the South?" Mauldin said. "If we want to make ourselves appear to be a cosmopolitan city, we have to allow it."
The vote was a walloping defeat for the Georgia Christian Coalition, which first lost a lobbying war at the state Capitol, then tried in vain to muster local-level opposition. No organized "vote no" campaign emerged, with most churches choosing to stay out of the fray.
During the past few weeks, the coalition sent out two email blasts, each with more than 11,000 recipients, imploring pastors and other church officials, parishioners, religious organizations and civic clubs across the state to stop Sunday from becoming another Saturday.
No churches wrote back with offers to help, coalition President Jerry Luquire said, but maybe Tuesday's results will show them how much he needs their help. With more votes sure to come during the March 6 primary, Luquire said he'll be working to enlist churches, private schools and pro-family groups.
"Our message was soundly defeated," he said. "We'll probably change our approach for next year, but we've still got half the state population to go."
Religious preferences did, however, lead James Freedle to vote against Snellville's referendum.
"I don't think it's appropriate to drink on Sunday," he said, noting that he does not drink on "any day ending in ‘day.' "
Tuesday's referendums followed a five-year battle at the state level, prolonged for years by teetotaler Gov. Sonny Perdue's pledge to veto any measure ending the Sunday ban. Nathan Deal, however, took a different stance after succeeding Perdue.
At one point during this year's legislative session, Senate Bill 10 appeared dead, but an outcry from constituents put it back in play. Industry lobbyists agreed to restrict sales to after 12:30 p.m. on Sundays, which essentially means that one blue law will be replaced with another, less stringent one.
Blue laws, designed to enforce religious standards, particularly observance of the Sabbath through restrictions on alcohol and shopping, have been on the decline for decades, both in Georgia and throughout the country.
Industry representatives predicted Tuesday's results will be only the first ripples of a tide that will wash over the state during the next year, as more revenue-minded counties and cities tack the question onto even-year elections.
Only 120 of Georgia's total 694 cities and counties chose to wade in Tuesday -- the first election date available under state law -- many declining because they didn't want to bear the cost of a single-issue ballot.
"You're probably going to see a patchwork for a while," said Jay Hibbard, vice president of government relations for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. "But I think over time, you'll see that patchwork get close and filling in the gaps."http://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-politic ... 20719.html