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Alcohol Board considering changes to ordinance

    The Statesboro Alcohol Control Board is considering changes to the city's alcohol ordinance, which would allow for the creation of bars and permit restaurants to serve alcohol on Sunday afternoons.
    In a work session Thursday, the ACB met to streamline an alcohol ordinance that has become increasingly burdensome and lengthy, causing confusion for license holders and putting administrative burdens on the city.
    The board's first order of business considered overhauling the administrative penalty structure, which had been putting an undue burden on license holders. Currently, the first penalty, which occurs after any single violation of the alcohol ordinance, suspends the license for three days. For some owners, this can cost thousands of dollars.
    The proposed penalty structure would give a warning to anyone who commits a first offense in a 24-month period. A second offense would suspend happy hour privileges for six months. The third offense would carry a three-day suspension, a fourth would carry a 10-day suspension and a fifth offense would carry the possibility of license revocation.
    Ultimately, whatever recommendations the board makes will require city council approval.
    Roman Mercer, Apex's owner, and Jim Lanier, Locos owner, attended the meeting and offered their input from the industry view. Though more work needs to be done in a future work session, Mercer thought the meeting was positive.
    "Things are moving in the right direction," said Mercer. "It's taken a while to come to it, but we're finally moving in the right direction."
    ACB chairman and councilman Joe Brannen limited the session to 90 minutes. As a result, not all of the topics were covered in depth. Though the board agreed that Sunday sales for restaurants and creating new categories for licensed establishments would be positive changes to the ordinance, they wanted to review other ordinances across the state for their language.
    Establishments with alcohol licenses would be divided into three categories — restaurants, taverns and bars. Restaurants would sell more than 50 percent food. Bars would primarily be drinking establishments, maybe offering light snacks. Taverns would fall somewhere in between, possibly serving lunch in the afternoon and operating as a bar at night. Only restaurants would be allowed to sell alcohol on Sunday.
    One benefit of creating different categories, often cited by ACB member and councilman Gary Lewis, is that bars or taverns could keep out anyone under the age of 21. Mercer was asked if it would be easier to police underage drinking if he could keep underage people out of his establishment.
    "Yes, yes," said Mercer. "I have to let a 14-year-old in right now if they come to the door. I don't serve underage, never have, never will." But, he said, he can't prevent underage people from coming in to his establishment because it would be considered discrimination under the current ordinance.

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