Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sunday Alcohol Sales: Give Citizens the Vote!

My main reason for starting this page was to publish my findings regarding Douglas County history, but I also figured I’d throw in an opinion or two from time to time regarding pressing issues regarding the place I’ve made my home for over 25 years.

So, the first issue I’m speaking out about regards Sunday alcohol sales because the situation has reached a point where I can’t stay silent any longer.

One year ago this month Governor Nathan Deal signed SB-10, the bill that allows local communities to vote to allow the sale of alcohol in stores on Sunday.  This past November more than 100 cities and counties voted on Sunday liquor sales.  

Overwhelmingly, cities and counties across the state are tearing down the last vestige of Georgia’s blue laws; however….citizens in Douglas County and the city of Douglasville have NOT been allowed the vote…..at least not yet.

I’ve been reading many of the Sentinel articles regarding Sunday sales.  I also joined the Facebook page regarding Sunday sales found here titled “Douglasville and Douglas County for Sunday Alcohol Sales”.   I also used my former history column with Douglasville Patch to publish a question and answer forum with all four of the Douglasville mayoral candidates regarding various issues.  One of the questions I asked the candidates involved Sunday sales.  You can read their responses including how current Mayor Harvey Persons responded here.

It looks like a majority of the members of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners are in favor of letting the people decide by placing the issue on the November, 2012 ballot…..though they have not officially voted to do so.

It also looks like the city council may also understand the people should vote regarding the issue of Sunday sales.

However, it seems as if a few are putting the cart before horse regarding the issue.  At this point it doesn’t matter…..shouldn’t matter how our county and city elected officials feel personally about Sunday sales, but it seems to keep coming up.

In a recent Sentinel article District 4 Commissioner Ann Jones-Guider mentioned keeping the Sabbath holy as one of the reasons why she doesn’t want a referendum on Sunday alcohol sales.  What about citizens who don’t recognize Sunday as the Sabbath?   Some people recognize Friday as their Sabbath while others recognize Saturday…..still others recognize no Sabbath.   I’m also trying to wrap my head around the Sabbath reason since a true recognition on the Sabbath would mean no dining out….no shopping…..no activity of any kind but worship, right?  

Another issue I find upsetting is misinformation.

Recently, a pastor in Douglas County sent a letter to the members of his church regarding Sunday alcohol sales.   The letter was printed in its entirety at the Facebook page I linked to above.   I see nothing wrong with a pastor informing members of his church regarding issues, however, the letter had some factual errors that were noted on the Facebook page and corrected.  

I’m presenting the letter here along with the corrections by “Douglasville and Douglas County for Sunday Alcohol Sales” in bold italics:

“Dear Church Family,

The Douglasville City Council made a proclamation on April 16th declaring April 2012 to be Alcohol Awareness Month. In the same session, Mayor Pro Tem Larry G. Yockey introduced for consideration three alcohol-related issues, three weeks before the review on these matters wer
e to be released from the Public Safety Committee. “

Alcohol Awareness Month has nothing to do with the three issues introduced by Mayor Pro Tem Yockey.   It is about underage drinking, which is illegal and continues to be if these changes are made.

“The three issues at hand are allowing for Sunday alcohol sales, lowering the food to alcohol ratio required by establishments, and extending the pouring hours. All three issues will be voted on by the City Council on May 7th at 7:30 p.m. to be placed on the November ballot.”

Of these three issues, only Sunday alcohol sales would be placed on the ballot.  The other two issues are for the council to decide.

Currently, Douglas County law only allows for the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays in a restaurant establishment after 12:30 p.m. “

Douglas County law actually does not allow for any sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays in a restaurant establishment, but this is irrelevant since this is about the law within the city of Douglasville.  The city of Douglasville law allows for the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays in a restaurant establishment after 12:30 p.m.,consistent with state law.

“All restaurants must have a food to alcohol sales ratio of 60/40 (food/alcohol). The current pouring hours in Douglas County allow for establishments to serve until 2 a.m. Monday through Friday with an exception on Saturday nights to end serving at midnight.”

Those restaurants that serve alcohol 6 days a week (excludes Sunday) must maintain an average 51/49 food sales to alcohol sales ratio over the course of a year.  Those restaurants with a seven day pouring license must maintain an average 60/40 ratio for the year.  This means that those restaurants that want to serve on Sunday have to meet a higher hurdle every day for that privilege.   State law requires a minimum of 50 percent food, with no special higher hurdles for Sundays.

The current pouring hours in Douglas County actually allow for establishments to serve until 2:55 a.m. (the next morning) Monday through Saturday nights, but this is irrelevant since this is about the law within the city of Douglasville.

The current pouring hours in the city of Douglasville allow for establishments to serve until 2 a.m. (the next morning) Monday through Friday.  On Saturday nights, they can pour until midnight, and on Sunday nights until 10:30 p.m.

“The new proposal would change the ordinance to permit grocery and convenience stores to sell alcohol on Sundays, as well as to extend the pouring hours in restaurants until 2:55 a.m. Monday through Sunday. The council could decide to lower the food to alcohol ratio to 51/49, allowing for more of a bar setting than restaurant environment. If you lower the food to alcohol ratio and extend the hours of sale, you open the door for more drinking and greater intoxication. This in turn leads to the higher probability of DUIs and alcohol related traffic incidents.”

There are three proposals to each be voted on separately.  The first proposal would place a referendum on the November ballot to allow the citizens to decide whether retail establishments (supermarkets, convenience stores, package stores, Walmart) within the city limits should be permitted to sell bottles and cans between the hours of 12:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.   These retail establishments are already allowed to sell 24 hours a day, 6 days a week if they choose.   This is adding 11 hours to the existing 144 hours allowed.

The second proposal would change the restaurant pouring hours in the city of Douglasville to match the pouring hours Monday through Saturday at restaurants outside of the city limits in order to level the playing field.   Sunday night hours would be extended only to 11:30 p.m.

The third proposal would change the food/alcohol sales ratio requirement to be 51/49 for all restaurants regardless of what days they choose to be open.  This would not make any restaurant more of a bar setting than the ones that already have the 51/49 6-day requirement.

As far as opening the door for more drinking and greater intoxication, there is no factual data to support that claim.   Driving while intoxicated is illegal now and will continue to be so if these changes are enacted.  Programs such as the designated driver program can and should be used to help reduce the risk of DUIs and alcohol related accidents.  With individual liberty comes personal responsibility.

Under the current laws in the city of Douglasville, it is legal to drink at a restaurant and then drive home, but it is not legal to buy an alcohol beverage on Sunday at a store and then drive home to drink it.  These changes could actually reduce DUIs and alcohol-related accidents on Sundays.

It doesn’t bother me at all the pastor sent the letter, however, I would hope that citizens educate themselves with many different sources of information to get a complete set of facts before voting, but……we don’t have the vote yet, do we?

What matters at this point is how city council members and county commissioners feel about allowing YOU to vote on an issue….NOT regarding how they feel personally regarding Sunday alcohol sales.

 The governor of Georgia as well as members of the Georgia General Assembly have all voiced their concern via SB-10 and realize Sunday alcohol sales is not an issue for elected officials to decide.

The people should decide.

Let the people speak.

Give us the referendum and allow us to make our own choices.

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