Lincoln, Piedmont Sunday alcohol sales bills advance
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Feb 06, 2014 | 4815 views |  0 comments | 85 85 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A customer's hand reaches in the cooler for a cold beer at the Country Corner store in Piedmont. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
A customer's hand reaches in the cooler for a cold beer at the Country Corner store in Piedmont. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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MONTGOMERY — Bills to allow Sunday alcohol sales in three east Alabama cities are steadily marching through the Alabama Legislature.

The Alabama Senate voted Thursday in favor of a bill that would allow stores in Piedmont to sell alcohol on any day of the week. The bill follows one the Senate quietly passed last month, which would allow voters in Lincoln to decide whether to approve Sunday sales.

Another bill, filed this week, would allow Sunday sales in the small Coosa County town of Goodwater.

"There seems to be a flurry of requests from cities for these bills," said Sen. Jerry Fielding, R-Sylacauga, sponsor of the Goodwater and Lincoln bills.

The Lincoln bill would allow that Talladega County city to hold a referendum on allowing sales of alcohol after noon on Sundays — and after 8 a.m. Sunday on weekends when "a major racing event" is held at the nearby Talladega Superspeedway.

The speedway hosts the Aaron's 499 and other major NASCAR events, drawing tens of thousands of fans.

Attempts to reach Lincoln mayor Bud Kitchin for comment Thursday were unsuccessful. Fielding said he proposed the bill because the city had introduced a resolution asking for it.

"I'm not one to sit back and judge what's best for the city of Lincoln," he said. "It should be up to them to decide."

In fact, Fielding and his colleagues do get to decide when, and whether, people in their districts buy alcohol. The state's constitution gives Montgomery control over a number of aspects of local government, which means city or county alcohol regulations often come before the Alabama Legislature for a vote. By a gentlemen's agreement, lawmakers tend to vote for any local bill that gets the approval of the legislators in the county affected by the bill.

Like Fielding, Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he's simply standing aside and letting the city get what it asked for. Marsh sponsored a Sunday alcohol sales bill for Piedmont, which passed the Senate 18-1 with no debate Thursday.

Marsh, the president pro tempore of the Senate, sponsored bills last year to allow Sunday sales in Anniston and Weaver. The bills managed to pass the House despite opposition from half of Calhoun County's House delegation, a rarity in the Legislature.

At the time, critics said the Anniston and Weaver bills could lead to a cascade of Sunday sales efforts from neighboring cities looking to compete for Sunday business.

Piedmont Mayor Bill Baker didn't sound all that competitive on Thursday.

"If it passes or doesn't, it won't kill us one way or the other," Baker said.

Baker said the Piedmont City Council asked for a Sunday sales bill because the owner of the Norton's Express convenience store on Alabama 9 asked them for it.

The store isn't within the city limits, but is within Piedmont's police jurisdiction, which means the city's ordinances apply there, and some of its sales tax goes to Piedmont.

"If it does pass, we'll see a little bit more revenue, but just a little," Baker said. He said he couldn't see a particularly good reason to deny a business the right to sell something on Sunday that was legal any other day of the week.

"If you want to drink on Sunday, you're just going to buy enough on Saturday to hold you over," he said.

Rep. Randy Wood, R-Saks, used almost the same words to explain why he's against Sunday alcohol sales.

"Looks to me like if you want to drink on Sunday, you can just buy more on Saturday," he said. Wood opposed last year's bills, on the grounds that he didn't want local economic growth to be dependent on expanding alcohol sales. He said he was against the Piedmont and Lincoln sales bills as well.

Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, was the staunchest opponent of the Anniston and Weaver bills. Asked about the Lincoln Sunday sales bill, he said only: "I'll have to see the bill." He said the same about the Piedmont bill.

Rep. Koven L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, said he had just one regret about last year's alcohol bills. "We should have just passed something for the whole county, to give them all a choice to have Sunday sales or not," he said. "It would have saved us a lot of trouble."

Both the Piedmont and Lincoln Sunday sales bills have been passed on to the House. They'll require hearings in committee before moving on for a final vote.

The House and Senate are both in recess until Tuesday.

Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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