The Anniston Ecotourism Beverage Bill, which would empower the Anniston City Council to approve alcohol sales in the city on Sundays, passed the House of Representatives by a 43-3 margin Tuesday.
The bill, which already passed the Senate, still needs the governor's signature in order to become law. But that didn’t stop Anniston's mayor from declaring the vote a triumph for the city.
“This is a victory for the home team,” said Mayor Vaughn Stewart.
Stewart and other members of the Anniston City Council have been pushing for the bill, based on the notion that Sunday alcohol sales could help the city attract more tourism. The city has become the site of a number of high-profile 5K runs and bicycle races, many of them held on weekends.
The bill’s struggle to get through the Legislature reads like a quirky, Alabama version of Schoolhouse Rock. After a quick vote in the Senate, the bill hit a brick wall in the House, where the opposition of a single local legislator can often kill a bill. Two of the four House members from Calhoun County opposed it.
Then a House committee broke with custom and sent the bill on to the full House, likely at the urging of Senate president pro tempore Del Marsh, an Anniston Republican. Finally, the bill was held up in the House when a northwest Alabama lawmaker, upset that the Legislature didn't overturn the veto of one of his bills, promised to challenge all local legislation, effectively tying up the bill indefinitely.
An agreement last week between that lawmaker, Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, cleared up that logjam. As a result, a pent-up flood of local bills coursed through the House Tuesday.
The only three lawmakers voting against the Anniston Sunday sales bill were Rep. Randy Wood, R-Saks; Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford; and Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City. Hurst was the bill's first foe in the Legislature, saying he didn't want to expand alcohol use on Sunday. Wood has long maintained that he doesn’t want Anniston to build its economy on drinking.
Wood said Tuesday that the vote came out as he'd expected. He said he'd done what he could to stop the bill.
“I let people know how I felt about it, and I cast my vote,” he said.
"No" votes on local bills are somewhat rare, abstentions far less so. Thirty-nine lawmakers abstained from the vote, and 18 didn't vote at all.
Anniston's mayor said it’s already time to prepare for the next vote — the City Council's decision on approving Sunday sales.
“The council will be looking at different options,” he said. “We’ll be looking at how we want to craft our ordinance. Is it going to be citywide or is it going to be in a district?”
Stewart said the council would vote on the issue by May or June. He said the city was ready to move forward into a new era.
“We've gone through a lot of years of bad news, and this is positive news,” he said.
Still, the governor must sign the bill before Sunday sales supporters can pop a celebratory cork. Bentley’s spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis, speaking before the vote, said only that the governor's staff would study the bill if it came to Bentley's desk.
Bentley has signed bills authorizing Sunday alcohol referenda in Northport and Tuscaloosa County, according to reports from The Tuscaloosa News.
The Anniston bill was just one of several local measures that passed the House Tuesday. House members passed two bills by Rep. K. L. Brown, R-Jacksonville. One would allow members of the Jacksonville Civil Service Board to be booted off the board for failure to attend meetings. Another would include the librarian of the Jacksonville Public Library in the civil service system. Both bills now head to the Senate.
House members voted 34-0, with 55 abstentions, to approve a bill sponsored by Wood that would tighten restrictions on door-to-door sales in Calhoun County. Among other things, the bill would require background checks for door-to-door salespeople, and would ban peddling after dark.
"When people come home at night, they want peace and quiet," he said. The bill would also provide License Commissioner Barry Robertson with a county-funded car, something Wood said was needed to help Robertson enforce the new regulations.
The House voted 33-0 with 48 abstentions to pass HB558, a bill by Rep. Richard Laird that would move a portion of the county’s tobacco tax funds away from the Randolph County Water Authority and toward the newly created Equine and Agriculture Association. The legislation also prevents funds from the tobacco tax to be used on the salaries of employees of the Randolph County Industrial Development Council. The bill has been a contentious matter in Randolph County, where some residents have asked for an in-county public hearing on the bill.
Before the vote, a public hearing was scheduled for the Statehouse in Montgomery at 3 p.m. Wednesday. The hearing remained on the House schedule Tuesday night, after the measure passed.
Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.