Bill for earlier Sunday alcohol sales in Georgia gets initial approval

Georgians may be one step closer to having a bloody mary with their Sunday morning brunch.

A Senate panel on Tuesday renewed the possibility of that happening when it narrowly approved a measure to bump the time for alcohol sales at privately owned restaurants and stores from 12:30 p.m. to 11 a.m. on Sundays.

To make the change, locals would have to approve a referendum.

The House passed similar legislation — dubbed the “better brunch bill” — in the past, but it stalled in the Senate.

Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, said she introduced Senate Bill 17 to put private businesses on level playing field with the state-owned Georgia World Congress Center, which can serve alcohol at its facilities on Sunday mornings.

“The reason this bill originally came up is because there was not parity in the alcohol law,” she said. “And the economic development of restaurants are an essential part of any city.”

Adding the referendum was a compromise Unterman was willing to make, though she said she felt requiring counties that already have posed the question of allowing Sunday alcohol sales to voters to do so again was redundant and a waste of taxpayer money.

Georgia once banned any sort of purchase of alcohol on Sundays. But lawmakers over the past several years have allowed Sunday sales as long as they were made after 12:30 p.m. Since 2011, local governments have put the question on the ballot to see if residents wanted to make the change.

Mike Griffin, a lobbyist with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said he opposes any expansion of alcohol sales, saying consumption increases the number of car crashes and presents other public safety issues.

“Increased availability increases sales, increased sales increases consumption, but the increased consumption increases the problems with alcohol,” he said.

Brian Bullock, chairman of the Georgia Restaurant Association, told senators that changing the law would help “enhance guests’ experiences” at eateries. Bullock pointed to the crowds that recently came to Atlanta for the College Football National Championship match, which was held on a Monday.

“It was amazing the people that were coming in for that game that were just disappointed that their experience for the weekend was challenged, because they’re here for three or four nights and they want to have a great time,” he said.

In addition to having a drink with Sunday morning brunch, consumers also would be allowed to buy beer and wine from retail stores beginning at 11 a.m. if the measure passes the General Assembly and local residents decide to change their law.

That was something Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, said he was blindsided by during the Tuesday committee meeting — and adamantly against.

Gov. Sonny Perdue and the Senate killed several attempts during the late 2000s to pass bills allowing alcohol sales at stores on Sunday. Legislation allowing such sales finally passed in 2011, during Gov. Nathan Deal’s first year in office.

Kathy Kuzava, president of the Georgia Food Industry Association, said making sales earlier in the day on Sundays is another way to help local grocery stores compete with online retailers.

“Amazon is getting better and better at bringing customer service to all of you,” she said. “We’re trying to find new ways to compete.”

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