It’s no secret that the United States has a convoluted relationship with libations.
Just look at some of the laws on the books today:
- About 10 percent of the country is still dry, including Tennessee’s Moore County, the home of the Jack Daniel’s distillery;
- In Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Utah, the only place to buy alcohol is in state-owned stores;
- Doughnut shops in Louisiana are not allowed to apply for an alcohol permit;
- Kentucky and South Carolina don’t allow liquor sales on Election Day (a law stemming back to the country’s first elections, where saloons were used as polling stations and booze was used as a bribe).
But one set of blue laws—one that affects citizens on a weekly basis—might be on the outs: Sunday bans on liquor sales.
Georgia became the 15th state since 2002 to lift one of these bans when Republican Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill on Thursday that allows counties to decide for themselves whether to allow liquor stores to open on the Christian Sabbath.
“It’s something that the people of Georgia have wanted to vote on for a long time,” state Rep. Roger Williams, a Republican who sponsored the bill, told National Journal Daily. “It’s just an extension of the liberty citizens deserve. It used to be nothing was open on Sundays. Then gas stations opened up, then drug stores. It’s just taken a little more time for liquor stores.”
It’s a move that may offer more convenience for shoppers, but one that has left a bitter taste in some people’s mouths. Jerry Luquire, president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, said he will continue to fight the repeal of Sunday liquor sale bans on a local level.
“By Georgia law, Sunday is a day of rest,” Luquire said. “By tradition, it is unlike any other day of the week. No courts, no government operations, no postal delivery, and no liquor stores. It is a unique day, and we would like it to stay that way because of tradition.”
It might, however, be a fading tradition. While there are 13 states where the ban remains—all of which allow Sunday liquor sales at bars and restaurants, but not at liquor stores—those numbers might soon change. Measures similar to the Georgia bill are being considered in Texas, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Minnesota. Minnesota’s bill recently was approved by a Senate committee on an 8-7 vote.
“There’s a national trend of states modernizing their liquor laws to generate new revenue without having to raise taxes, which is extremely important in this economy,” said Ben Jenkins, a vice president at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. “It also gives consumers 21st Century convenience. Sunday is the second busiest shopping day of the week.”
A DISCUS study from 2006 found that in the 12 states that had lifted the Sunday sales ban since 2002, new sales generated $212 million for retailers, and each state saw tax revenues from liquor sales increase an average of around 6 percent.
Donny Alaimo, a liquor store owner in Connecticut, says when Massachusetts lifted its ban on Sunday sales, his store took a real hit, with his customers crossing the state line for their booze.
“I’ve lost over $800,000 in revenue,” he said. “This law is truly destroying the border towns.”
Alaimo has been urging state lawmakers for three years to end the Sunday prohibition. Part of the difficulty, he said, is that he’s fighting against the Connecticut Package Store Association, which likes having a mandated day off.
“The way I see it, is that if you don’t want to open on Sunday, you don’t have to,” he said. “But don’t keep enterprising businesses from doing what they can to make money.”
Others worry about the social impact of seven days of liquor sales. Georgia state Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, a Republican, said he voted against the repeal of the Sunday sales prohibition for this reason.
“I spoke with an attorney who has been [handling] DUI cases for 20 years,” Seabaugh said. “In that time, he told me that he had only represented two people whose infraction had occurred on a Sunday. If you open up the liquor stores, that’s going to change.”
The Distilled Spirits Council disagrees. “Of all the studies that have been done, there is zero indication of a negative social impact,” Jenkins said.
One of these studies, by Drexel University associate professor Mark Stehr, was called The Effect of Sunday Sales of Alcohol on Highway Crash Fatalities. Using data from the federal government’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, it found no clear evidence of an increase in traffic fatalities in the 13 states that either eased or repealed Sunday liquor laws between 1995 and 2005.
Williams said he believes opening up liquor stores might actually be a boon to safety.
“You can go get drunk on Sunday anyway,” he said. “You can go to a bar, and drink away the afternoon, and then get in a car, drive, and run the risk of killing someone. But if someone could go to a [liquor] store, they would then be able to drink at home. You tell me which is safer.”
This article appears in the May 2, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.