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Sunday alcohol bill passes big test
Legislation gets 6-1 vote in Senate committee meeting after 40 minutes
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The chances of success for legislation letting voters legalize Sunday alcohol sales at stores got a lot better Wednesday when it easily zipped through a Senate committee.

In a dramatic contrast to past years, no one spoke out against the bill when it came before the Senate State and Local Governmental Operations Committee on Wednesday, and it passed on a 6-1 vote about 40 minutes after the meeting began.

Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour, R-Snellville, a co-sponsor of the measure, said it could be on the Senate floor for a first-ever chamber vote by the middle of next week.

Balfour said he "feels good" about its chances of passing the Senate. It would then go to the House, where Regulated Industries Chairman Roger Williams, R-Dalton, said, "I am hoping it will go through with little or no problem."

If passed and signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal, the issue could go to voters this fall in some cities.

The bill, which would let city councils and county commissioners set Sunday sales elections, has stalled for several years without getting to the Senate floor, often after strong opposition was voiced by religious conservatives. Even if it had passed, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, who left office last month, vowed to veto it.

The 2011 session brought a new governor, and Deal has said he supports letting local voters decide the issue. Also, the Senate bill was assigned to a new committee more favorable to the legislation.

"What's important is local people will be able to make their decisions about their community," said Sen. Butch Miller, R-Flowery Branch, the committee's chairman.

Jerry Luquire of the Georgia Christian Coalition said it didn't pay to fight the bill this time around.

"We're recognizing the fact that the governor is going to have his way," said Luquire, who plans to fight Sunday sales at the local level if the bill passes the General Assembly and is signed into law.

A liquor store lobbyist also said the industry would not oppose the bill this year.

Georgia is one of only three states - along with Connecticut and Indiana - that completely bans all alcohol sales at stores on Sundays, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Georgians in some areas of the state can already buy beer, wine and liquor at bars, restaurants and sporting venues.

Grocery and convenience store groups have been pushing the legislation for several years. Polls also have shown strong support for the issue.

Amy Hillman, an Atlanta lawyer and mother, told the Senate committee Wednesday that she is so busy during the week and on Saturdays that Sunday is the only day she has time to grocery-shop. She said many mothers are in the same boat.

"We hope you will help us to have that flexibility to take care of all our needs on Sunday," she said.

A member of the committee, Sen. Donzella James, D-College Park, noted that her son was killed by a drunken driver in 1993. She has pushed for stronger driving laws for teenagers and tougher penalties for drunken drivers.

"I would rather for people to purchase it and take it home than for them to go to a bar or restaurant and drink and then get in the car," she said.


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