Saturday, November 12, 2011

Rural communities in Georgia vote to keep Sunday dry

After years of debate over whether religiously motivated blue laws banning alcohol sales on Sundays should stay or go, Georgia politicians finally decided to let the people vote on the issue. A New York Times article reports the results: voting on a city by city and county by county basis rather than on a statewide one, 105 of 127 communities voted to repeal the Sunday restriction. While Atlanta, Savannah, and most urban areas celebrated the result, in contrast, the remaining 21 or so rural communities did not: they voted to keep Sundays dry.

As noted in a recent
blog post, "blue laws" apparently still exist to prohibit or restrict certain activities on Sundays such as hunting, shopping, and of course, selling alcohol. The debate over laws banning Sunday alcohol sales reveal tensions between urban and rural communities, as well as between big retail businesses and smaller local package and liquor stores.

Blue laws have been most common across the Bible Belt, particularly in deeply religious rural regions such as
Elbert County, in northeast Georgia. For 70 percent of the 2,400 voters in Elbert County, their resistance to ending Sunday alcohol sales restrictions was primarily for spiritual reasons. One member of the Forest Hill Assembly of God Church states, "The Bible says no to strong drink, and I'm proud that people around here agree."

Beyond religious reasons, there are other reasons rural communities want to keep Sundays dry. A church pianist thinks it's a matter of keeping good morals; Sundays are for going to church, not for going out to buy alcohol. And for Janice Dickerson, a Christian bookstore owner, it's about safety. She lost her 6-year-old son in a drunk driving accident.

But over the decades, urban regions have increasingly struck down blue laws because they considered them anachronistic or unfriendly to business. Until the recent vote, Connecticut, Indiana, and Georgia were the only states that banned Sunday sales of all alcohol (beer, wine, and liquor). As the governor of Connecticut stated in support of overturning the ban, it's a matter of retail fairness. The ban is anti-competitive, and "unfairly prevents businesses from meeting consumer demand on Sunday."

Moreover, with budget deficit numbers as high as $27 billion (Texas), $3.5 billion (Connecticut), and $1 billion (Indiana), the states could use the revenue. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade group and leader of the repeal effort nationwide, cites statistics showing that "each state that approved Sunday sales between 2002 and 2008 experienced at least a 5 percent increase in annual tax revenue."

But are the economic benefits really as straightforward as they seem? A surprising source of opposition, liquor store owners, has staunchly opposed the repeal effort by forming powerful lobbies to block potential state legislation. In Indiana, repeal opponents claim expanded sales would generate little new tax revenue. Additionally, repealing the law would allow grocery stores, convenience stores, and other retailers with more lax age regulations to sell liquor. This, in turn, promotes sales to minors, underage drinking, and drunk driving.

A more compelling argument from liquor store owners is that big business retailers would drive them out of business. They cite a study that shows expanded alcohol sales help bigger retailers. Smaller stores simply can't afford the higher operating costs of opening on Sundays, and repealing the blue laws would put up to 25 percent of Indiana's package stores out of business. Big grocery market businesses won't bear additional costs because they are already open on Sundays.

While in some ways the movement to repeal blue laws can be framed as an economic issue, others consider it primarily a religious or moral one. Georgia's "patchwork of alcohol laws" alone is proof that rural and urban communities retain starkly contrasting views regarding the matter. In the meantime, voting county by county and letting communities decide on the issue might be the best compromise.


JLS said...

In the past, I've thought of "blue laws" (or even optional Sunday closings) as a bit antiquated or silly. I enjoyed the (usually urban) ability to get anything at anytime. But it is interesting to see what the store owners think about expanding liquor laws. Additionally, I'm changing my mind a bit on the value of the 24/7 culture after seeing this article ( about a Target employee protesting the store's midnight opening on Thanksgiving. Despite the enormous financial value of "Black Friday," I think we all can agree that people should be able to spend Thanksgiving with their families, right?

Azar said...

I am always a really big separation of church and state proponent. That being said, I think you have to do a case-by-case balancing act when it comes to laws like this. Here, there seems to be a rational basis beyond just religious dogma and while it comes at a cost to business owner's and citizens, that cost seems very minimal. I think this is a decision that is properly left to local government and local elections; if people from certain parts of Georgia want to stop liquor sales on Sundays in those parts, I think that's OK.

Jason said...

I agree with Azar, this is a debate that should be left up to the local community. I spent for years in Rexburg, ID. It is a very conservative town and they still have many restrictive laws concerning alcohol. Just recently were alcohol permits issued to a few local restaurants. There are no bars in Rexburg or any in the entire county and alcohol sales are very restricted at the local grocery and convenience stores (no hard alcohol and no late night alcohol sales).

I knew a few people who found it as an inconvenience, but they accepted it as the majority's desire and made do.

mts video converter said...

Road accidents would have been decrease. I am also favored those rural communities of Georgia.

Namora said...

At first, I agreed with Azar that this type of issue should be left to local government. However, banning Blue Laws does not COMPEL stores to stay open on Sunday and force employees to work on those days. Lifting Blue Laws, simply gives store owners the option of deciding whether or not they would like there stores to stay open. In almost all of these counties I would bet that there is some constituent of the population that would like to sell and buy liquor on Sunday. Why should these people have to give up their economic autonomy to the tyranny of a majority that is driven by religious dogma?

Dave Velasco said...

I guess they to need to look at the rights and considerations for employees on working even on Sundays. They have enough rest days as well.

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Roxy said...

Personallly, if you haven't picked up your booze stock by Saturday, it probably isn't that important anyway. Keep Sunday's for the Sabbath & family time.