ATLANTA - Sunday liquor sales "are fighting words in Georgia," writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and as bills are moving quickly through the state's Legislature that would allow local communities to make their own decisions on Sunday sales, the fighting is just beginning.
While the measure before the Legislature is expected to pass, and Governor Nathan Deal said he will sign it, the law would then be up to local officials €" city councils and county commissioners €" to decide whether to put the question of selling alcohol at stores on Sunday before their voters.
According to a recent poll by InsiderAdvantage, while metro Atlantans favored Sunday sales 66 percent to 23 percent, South Georgians were strongly opposed, 63 percent to 31 percent (North and central Georgia residents were opposed but by margins of less than 10 percent).
However, even in the metro areas, officials say the measure is one that is far from settled.
"I think it would be a coin toss," said Coweta County Commissioner Bob Blackburn. "It would depend on who could get out the stronger vote."
Jerry Luquire, president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, said the issue is a priority for his organization. "We€™re grass-rooting," he said. "It is a very strong priority issue."
"For us, it€™s a convenience factor more than anything," said Publix Super Markets spokeswoman Brenda Reid, whose company is working with the Georgia Food Industry Association to lobby in favor of the bill.
"We have a good amount of square footage devoted to beer and wine that we can€™t use 52 days out of the year," she said. "We want to sell broadly across the store."
If the Georgia Legislature passes the measure, city council members and county commissioners would then be able to put the issue to their voters, but they are in no rush to do so, absent public pressure.
"I€™ll wait to see if there is a groundswell or grass-roots effort from the community asking us to put it on the ballot," said Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee. "I would think if put on the ballot, it would likely pass."
The bill for Sunday alcohol sales at stores passed Georgia's Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee last week and it is expected to reach the Senate floor for a full vote "within weeks," according to the AJC.
Officials predict easy passage in the House, followed by Governor Deal's signature on the bill. City councils and county commissioners would then decide whether to put the issue to local voters to decide, which could happen as early as this fall.