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House OKs Sunday liquor bill

By M.J. Ellington (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Local governments could decide on their own if or when to hold referendums on Sunday liquor sales under a bill that cleared the state House on Wednesday.

After hours of debate and amendment attempts, the bill by Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, passed 58 to 28. One amendment, which removed a provision enabling voters in a city to petition for a referendum, also passed.

While Decatur received permission in 2005 to hold a Sunday-sales referendum, that bill set specific times for the referendum that Ford's bill does not contain. Under the 2005 bill, Decatur voters probably would not be allowed to decide the issue until 2008.

Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, a co-sponsor, said he supports the bill because it gives control of liquor votes to people most affected.

"This is an issue we have to deal with over and over each year," Hammon said. "This gives the decision back to the communities where people vote on the issue. It permits, but does not mandate that local governments call for a referendum. They do not have to come back to Montgomery to get permission if they decide to do so."

Reps. Bill Dukes, D-Decatur, Mack McCutcheon, R-Capshaw, and Jeremy Oden, R-Eva, voted against the bill. Rep. Henry White, D-Athens, was away from Montgomery on school business at home.

Dukes said his reasons go back to the 1980s. At that time, during Decatur's discussions about whether to allow liquor sales in the city, Dukes as mayor promised not to support Sunday liquor sales. Dukes said that although he supports allowing people to vote on liquor issues, Wednesday's vote reflected that promise.

In addition to Decatur, the bill would apply to 13 other cities, including Athens, that range in size from 12,000 to 99,000 and do not currently have Sunday liquor sales. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Other cities affected by the bill include Anniston, Alexander City, Dothan, Enterprise, Florence, Gadsden, Ozark, Selma, Sheffield, Sylacauga, Talladega and Tuscaloosa.

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