It looks as if legislators under the Gold Dome are about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on the issue of Sunday sales of alcohol.
For the last few years, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, a teetotaler, had stood in the way of efforts to simply allow voters at the local level to decide if they wanted to be able to buy alcoholic beverages at grocery and convenience stores on Sunday. His argument seems to have been that if Georgians wanted to drink alcohol on Sunday, they should plan ahead and buy on Saturday. During Perdue’s eight years in office, Republican legislators apparently saw no mileage to take a risk in upsetting a key constituency, the Religious Right, only to have Perdue veto such a measure.
But that was then, and this is now. Georgia’s new governor, Nathan Deal, has stated publicly he is inclined sign legislation allowing voters at the local level to decide whether to allow Sunday sales.
Two pieces of legislation — HB 69 and SB 10 — that would provide for local control on this issue have cleared their respective committees with little opposition. They await placement on the calendars of both chambers to come to the floor for vote. Until a few days ago, it appeared as if Sunday-sales was on the fast track to being passed.
A small glint of freedom appeared on the horizon; a flickering light that now appears illusory.
The Religious Right once again is flexing its muscles; determined to limit the personal choice Georgians should be allowed to make without the meddling of government nannies. Their complaint is that allowing a grown man or woman in Georgia to purchase a six-pack of beer on Sunday constitutes an unaccceptable “encroachment of the Lord’s day.” The contradiction that many such religious advocates object strongly to other meddling by the government gives them no pause.
Of course, opposition to the Sunday-sales measure does not end with those trying to force their morality and religious beliefs on others. Liquor store owners also have voiced opposition to the legislation, because they do want the competition they would face from supermarkets and convenience stores, if the Sunday-sales measure became law. Thus, their active opposition to the legislation.
The scenario that seems to be playing out is that House and Senate members with strong connections to certain liquor store owners are using the opposition of the Religious Right, and the resulting specter of primary challengers, to intimidate colleagues into opposing SB 10. At least in the Senate, in the absence of strong legislative leadership, this strategy appears to be working.
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce, which supports Sunday sales, recently made clear it was going to “score” a vote on legislative scorecards; a common step using votes to measure support for business interests in the state. Last week, however, word leaked out that Senate leadership and ranking members had met with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and asked them to step back.
Polls have shown repeatedly that Georgians want to decide this issue for themselves; with results ranging from 52 to 78 percent in favor of the measure. One specific poll conducted by the well-represented McLaughlin & Associates, for a lobbyist group supportive of Sunday sales, shows Republican voters in five Senate districts supportive of the legislation. In fact, voters in all five districts expressed the opinion they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported Sunday sales over one who did not.
No matter what the polls say or what special interests groups want, this is an issue of personal choice, whereby Georgians should be allowed to decide what is best for their communities. Despite early support in the state Senate; intense lobbying by the Religious Right, coupled with a vacuum of determined leadership, may have killed the measure this session.
If constituents mount a determined push at this time, however, there may still be a chance to brace up the leadership in the Senate and secure passage. I’m just not sure I’d urge advocates of Sunday sales to hold their breath.
– by Bob Barr, The Barr Code