- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2007

ATLANTA

Local communities would be able to decide for themselves whether beer and wine sales should be allowed on Sunday under legislation filed at the state Capitol.

The legislation introduced last week by Republican state Sen. Seth Harp sets up what is likely to be a hot battle under the gold dome this session. On one side are grocery and convenience stores, which want to be able to sell six-packs on Sunday. Lining up against them is an unlikely pairing — the Christian Alliance of Georgia and the state’s liquor stores.

Georgia, Connecticut and Indiana are the only states that ban the Sunday sale of all alcohol for off-premises consumption.

Mr. Harp’s bill would give local governments the ability to decide whether Sunday beer and wine sales should be permitted. Voters in those communities would then have to approve the change at the ballot box.

A recent poll commissioned by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found support for the bill. Sixty-eight percent of Georgians supported the local-option legislation. The telephone poll of 625 state residents had a margin or error of four percentage points. Support was strongest in metro Atlanta, where 80 percent of respondents said they liked the idea.

Mr. Harp said that every Sunday cars stream across the border from his western Georgia district into Alabama, where residents can pick up a bottle of Merlot with their groceries. He added that his district is filled with members of the military, who are surprised by Georgia’s blue laws.

“I’m a strong believer in the separation of church and state,” Mr. Harp said. “The vestiges of the Sunday blue laws are a holdover from a different time.”

Speaking on the floor of the Senate, Mr. Harp acknowledged that the issue is likely to stir strong feelings among lawmakers.

Ed McGill, a lobbyist for the Georgia Alcohol Dealers Association, said liquor store owners oppose the proposal largely because they have been left out. He described the fight as a David-and-Goliath battle between local liquor store owners and the large chain grocery and convenience stores.

“We don’t want our 1,100 liquor store owners driving by the big chain of grocery stores on Sunday selling beer and wine when they can’t,” Mr. McGill said.

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