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Sunday alcohol sales approved – Council action clears way for introduction in legislature

Barring any complications in the Alabama House, alcoholic beverages will soon be available in Atmore on Sunday.

City council members approved Resolution 2018-01 by a 4-0 margin, clearing the way for a measure that Mayor Jim Staff said was long overdue. (District 4’s Susan Smith is recuperating from surgery and was unable to attend the January 8 meeting.)

“This is piggy-backing on the state’s ‘brunch law’ (or “mimosa law”) regarding facilities in the city that sell spirits on Sunday,” the mayor said before asking for a vote. “It’s something that should have been done years ago. Everybody (who wants alcoholic beverages) goes right across the (Florida) line.”

District 5’s Chris Harrison said he learned that one particular Panhandle package store sells “over 140” cases of beer, wine and liquor each Sunday.

Staff said the move would stop or curtail the long lines of Alabama residents that form at package stores and other businesses just across the state line on Sunday.

“They say there’s people lined up across the line just about every Sunday, waiting on 1 p.m.,” he explained. “We’re not changing anybody’s drinking habits; we’re changing their buying habits. The city’s now going to get that revenue, I hope.”

Any business that currently sells beer and wine — including restaurants, grocery stores and convenience stores — would be allowed to do so throughout the week during regular sales hours (6 a.m. until 2 a.m., under state law) and from 10 a.m. until midnight on Sunday. That leaves the span from midnight Saturday until 10 a.m. Sunday as the only other “dead zone” for alcohol sales.

The only legal liquor purchases within Atmore are from the state-owned and operated ABC Store, which is not open on Sundays. The sale of mixed drinks is still outlawed here.

Under House Bill 353, which was passed on the last day of the 2017 legislative session, “a county or city through an ordinance or resolution could authorize businesses to begin alcohol sales at 10 a.m. Sundays.” Previously, under general Alabama law, Sunday alcohol sales couldn’t begin until noon or later.

Police Chief Chuck Brooks said the Sunday sales shouldn’t have a major impact on his department’s operations.

“It’s like any other law,” Brooks said. “If somebody breaks the law, we’re going to enforce it, whatever it is.”

Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, said the trend to allow Sunday sales will cause problems that far exceed any potential economic benefits. ACAP is a church-supported organization that lobbies against laws that make alcohol more readily available.

“The more restrictions we remove from alcohol, the more alcohol-related problems we’re going to have because alcohol is an addictive, mind-altering drug,” Godfrey said during a 2017 interview with AL.com.

District 3 Atmore Council Member Chris Walker said approval of the resolution puts the ball in the hands of State Rep. Alan Baker, who is expected to introduce the local legislation for House approval during the session that began Tuesday (January 9). The state legislature approved 15 such bills while in session during 2017.

“We had to do this before it could be done in the House,” Walker said. “Now it’s up to Rep. Baker to bring it before the Legislature.”

The state lawmaker was in budget hearings Tuesday and had not responded to an email seeking comment on the anticipated legislation.