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Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - 9:30am

Sunday Alcohol Sales Clears Senate

Legislation to allow voters to decide whether alcohol could be sold by retailers in their communities on Sundays has been passed by the state Senate.

The vote was 32-22 to approve, following three hours of debate.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. John Bulloch (R-Ochlocknee), closed the debate Wednesday. After the measure cleared the Senate Rules Committee back on Tuesday, Bulloch illustrated its support.

"There is real, strong support for this bill under a lot of aspects. I mean, from the business community and everything – there is a lot of support for it.”

Though the bill had early support this session, Christian groups lobbied hard against it and may have persuaded some Republican leaders to drop the issue last month. And on Wednesday, some not-so-conservative Democrats said the bill would increase the number of drinking-related fatalities on Sunday.

Democratic Minority Leader Robert Brown of Macon said liquor stores destroy inner city communities.

“When they say it's about local control, it’s not about local control," he said on the floor of the Senate. "It’s about the liquor.”

Still, some teetotaling Republicans said they would vote for the bill because it provides local control of the issue.

Republican Senator Don Balfour of Snellville says it promotes safety.

“The current law in Georgia is I can go to the sports bar on Sunday and drink all day and then do what? Drive home,” he said.

The bill would let communities decide if they want to hold a referendum on allowing grocery stores and other retailers to sell alcohol on Sundays.

Some supporters of the measure said observing a day of rest on Sundays is outdated because some Georgians worships other days of the week.

In recent years, efforts for similar bills stalled due to opposition from then-governor Sonny Perdue.

Jerry Luquire of the Georgia Christian Coalition had lobbied tirelessly against the bill. But after the vote, he predicted it would pass in the House.

The bill will need to pass the House in the final 10 days of this year’s legislative session to have a chance at becoming law. Although he doesn't drink, Governor Nathan Deal has said he will sign the bill because it's about local control.

Wednesday is Crossover Day in the state legislature. That's when bills must have passed at least one chamber to remain alive during this year's session.