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Liquor sales subject of hearing on Wednesday

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

MONTGOMERY — Liquor sales will be the topic of three public hearings Wednesday in the House Tourism and Travel Committee.

A bill by Rep. James Martin, D-Clanton, calls for a statewide referendum to coincide with the 2008 presidential election. The referendum would determine if the entire state should allow distribution and sales of alcoholic beverages. If it failed, existing dry counties would remain dry and existing wet counties would remain wet.

Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, a member of the committee, said he is against any bill that would call for a statewide vote on an issue better decided locally.

Legislators will also discuss two other liquor bills.

One addresses sales at Retirement Systems of Alabama-financed and owned conference centers, golf courses and hotels, as well as Alabama resort parks.

The bill by Rep. Johnny M. Morrow, D-Red Bay, would permit the sale of alcohol, draft beer and keg beer, including Sunday liquor sales for on-premises consumption.

The other bill would enable governing officials in cities with populations of 7,000 or more to decide Sunday liquor sales. Local officials could determine the hours of Sunday sales and whether sales would be for on- or off-premises consumption.

The three bills join a Sunday liquor sales bill that already cleared the committee and awaits final vote of the House.

Hammon is a co-sponsor of that bill, which was introduced by Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden. Ford's bill would give wet cities the authority to hold Sunday-sales votes without going to the Legislature for permission. The measure would affect cities with populations from 12,000 to 99,000 that don't already have Sunday sales, including Decatur and Athens.

Ford's bill would enable Decatur to hold a referendum prior to the 2008 presidential election, the time currently set for a vote in a bill passed for the city in 2005. Under Ford's bill, cities could choose to hold a referendum whenever they wanted.

Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, is sponsoring the Senate version of Ford's bill.

Hammon said he supports Ford's bill because it gives the final decision to voters in the area.

"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.

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