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THURSDAY, MARCH 29, 2007
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Sunday liquor bills could affect vote timing
Decatur balloting would be allowed at any time; Athens also impacted by legislation

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — The Decatur City Council could call a referendum on Sunday liquor sales at any time under provisions of a measure before the Legislature.

Pending bills also would apply to 13 other cities with populations from 12,000 to 99,000 that don't already have Sunday sales, including Athens.

Decatur's situation is unique. The Legislature passed a bill in 2005 allowing the City Council to call a referendum on Sunday liquor sales. But language in that bill likely prevents the vote from taking place before 2008.

No permission needed

The current bills would give impacted cities the authority to hold Sunday-sales votes without going to the Legislature for permission, said Rick Dent, a spokesman for Partnership for Economic Progress, which is backing the bill.

And unlike Decatur's 2005 bill, Dent said, the current bills would give local governments the authority to hold a referendum at any time.

Affected cities also include Anniston, Alexander City, Dothan, Enterprise, Florence, Gadsden, Ozark, Selma, Sheffield, Sylacauga, Talladega and Tuscaloosa. The bill wouldn't affect the city of Cullman, which is dry.

The partnership, a coalition of tourism, travel, restaurant, convenience store and related industries, proposed the measure, which is sponsored in the House by Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, and in the Senate by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro.

Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, is co-sponsor of Ford's bill, HB 507.

"We hear a lot of complaints about having to come back and back again to the Legislature for permission to do something locally because of the 1901 Constitution," Hammon said. "This would give that permission all at once so cities would not have to keep coming back to us with local bills on the same thing."

When pushing for Decatur's 2005 legislation, Pam Swanner, director of the Decatur/Morgan County Convention and Visitor's Bureau, said restaurant and tourism businesses in Decatur lose customers to nearby areas that allow Sunday liquor sales.

Ford's bill is in the House tourism and travel committee and Singleton's in the Senate tourism and marketing committee.

The bills also allow residents of a city to call for a sales vote via a petition signed by at least 10 percent of registered voters who voted in the most recent election.

Rep. Henry White, D-Athens, said he doesn't remember the subject of Sunday sales coming up while he was on the Athens City Council and he doesn't support Sunday sales. But White said he will look at the bill.

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