The Georgia General Assembly may be closer than ever to allowing voters in local communities, such as City of Decatur and Avondale Estates, to decide whether beer and wine can be sold in stores on Sunday.
New Gov. Nathan Deal has said he would not veto the proposal, in stark contrast to his predecessor, former Gov. Sonny Perdue.
If the Georgia General Assembly passes House Bill 69 and Senate Bill 10, county commissions and city councils would face the question of whether to put the question before their voters.
DeKalb cities such as and Dunwoody could decide on the issue themselves later this year, during their regularly scheduled municipal elections.
"You can buy wine now in a restaurant or pub on Sundays, you just can’t buy it at a grocery or package store," said City of Decatur Mayor Bill Floyd. "If it were to pass, we would give the people that live here an opportunity to vote on it."
The City of Avondale Estates, which has no package sales, would be able to amend its existing ordinances to allow wine sales and tastings on Sundays, but has no package stores in the city. The only business it would affect would be The Little Wine Shop and in the future, it would affect Wild Heaven, which will open next year.
No countywide elections are scheduled for DeKalb County until November 2012. Holding a special election in the county could cost anywhere from $400,000 to $750,000, according to several county election offices.
If the measure is approved, DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis has said he would support letting people decide the issue for themselves, according to county communications director Burke Brennan.
House Bill 69 sailed through the House Regulated Industries Committee on Wednesday, with no opposition. One of its sponsors, Powder Springs state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, is seen by many as one of Georgia’s most influential legislators.
The Senate version of the bill, SB10, may face a stronger challenge. It is sponsored by Smyrna state Sen. Doug Stoner.
Jerry Luquire, president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, said he had 22 “no” votes in the Senate by late in the week, and needed six or seven more to derail the measure.
“Local governments are contacting their senators, saying they don’t want the heat that this issue brings,” Luquire said. “They don’t want to have to make that decision, as to whether or not to allow such a referendum.”
Luquire would not name the communities that he said were trying to block the bill. He acknowledged that, if the measures pass the legislature, then most, if not all, metro Atlanta cities and counties would approve Sunday alcohol sales, if city councils and county commissions place the measure on a ballot.
A Feb. 10 poll by The Schapiro Group, an Atlanta-based public opinion research firm, said 78 percent of Georgia voters want the opportunity to vote on Sunday alcohol sales. In metro Atlanta, 83 percent were in favor of the measure. The results were part of the firm’s annual Georgia Legislative Poll, and was not conducted for any corporate sponsor.
If given the chance to decide, 61 percent of metro Atlantans said they would vote for Sunday alcohol sales. Twelve percent were “probably in favor;” 5 percent were “probably against;” 16 percent were “definitely against;” and 6 percent were undecided.
Metro Atlanta voters, men, and residents of urban and suburban areas are most likely to vote in favor, while voters over age 60, non-metro Atlanta voters, and rural residents are the most likely to vote against, the survey found.