None of the five Oconee County Commissioners is reporting hearing much interest in acting on Senate Bill 10, passed by the legislature last week to allow local governments to give voters a chance to approve or disapprove package sales by a licensed retailer on Sundays.
Watkinsville Mayor Joe Walter also told me that he has had no inquiries about the bill and “We don’t have any plans” at present to act on it.
The bill, approved by the Senate on March 16 and by the House on April 12, just two days before adjournment, is waiting on the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal, who has said he will sign it but only after further review.
“You are the first person to mention it,” Commissioner Jim Luke wrote me in response to an email message I sent him on Monday night. “I have not given the issue any consideration.”
I asked the commissioners if they had been approached by anyone wanting to get a vote in Oconee County on package sales on Sunday now that the bill has passed.
“At this point, no one has approached me to request a referendum on this matter,” Chairman Melvin Davis wrote back yesterday in response to my query.
|Melvin Davis, 4/13/2011|
“I would expect to get requests in the next few months if the governor signs the bill as he has indicated,” Davis added.
“I did hear several people bring the topic up at a meeting I attended last week,” Commissioner Chuck Horton wrote back to me on Tuesday. “But the comments were not directed to me and the comments were short.”
Horton said he did expect “there will be something asked of the BOC if the legislation becomes law.”
Horton wrote “I can't imagine putting this item on a ballot if it were the only item.” It costs $20,000 to pay for an election, he said. Local governments must absorb that cost.
“My guess is that there will be a request to place the Sunday sale and a mixed drink vote on the ballot at the same time,” he added.
Commissioner John Daniell also said in his email reply on Monday that he had not been approached about the issue.
He agreed with Horton and Davis that requests are likely.
“I would expect someone to approach the BOC,” He said. “Don't be surprised to see liquor by the drink mentioned during this time as well.”
Commissioner Margaret Hale responded today in much the same way.
“Have not had anyone approach me concerning this,” she wrote. “I am sure that once the bill is signed the phone will start ringing.”
When I called Mayor Walter at home tonight, he said I was the second person who asked him today if the city was discussing the possibility of a referendum on package sales, and the other was a reporter from the Athens Banner-Herald.
Licensed grocery and convenience stores in Oconee County and Watkinsville currently sell beer and wine Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, they can display but not sell these products.
SB 10 could make that space more productive from a sales point of view.
Licensed restaurants in Watkinsville and Oconee County also can sell beer and wine, but not on Sunday. SB 10 would not change that restriction, as the bill deals only with package sales.
Oconee County authorized beer and wine sale in restaurants only in April of 2008, several months after Watkinsville did so.
Georgia law allows municipal and county governing bodies to approve beer and wine sale, but voters must approve the sale of alcohol.
SB 10, if signed by the governor, also would allow voters to decide on Sunday sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits, but only in counties where these are now allowed.
Oconee County does not allow the sale of distilled spirits, so voters would have to approve that sale before it could approve Sunday sale of distilled spirits.
Oconee County Rep. Hank Huckaby voted for SB 10 when it passed the House, while Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents Oconee County, voted against SB 10 when it passed the Senate.
Huckaby told WGAU’s Tim Bryant during Bryant's “Newsmakers” program on April 8 that he planned to vote for SB 10 when it came before the House because he felt his constituents were overwhelmingly in favor of it, but he personally opposes Sunday sales.
“If it ever gets on the ballot in Oconee County I will vote against it,” Huckaby said. He lives in Oconee County.
The bill before the governor would allow county or municipal authorities to call for an election once they had passed an ordinance or resolution specifying the hours of sales, which cannot be before 12:30 p.m. or after 11:30 p.m. on Sundays.
Voters then would get to vote either for or against the sale in a called referendum.