Sunday alcohol sales could come to Covington this year, as the city considers including a referendum on sales with the Nov. 8 city council election.
The Georgia General Assembly recently passed a bill allowing Sunday package sales in Georgia at the discretion of local governments, and Gov. Nathan Deal has said he will sign the bill into law.
Covington's restaurants and bars have been able to sell beer, liquor and wine on Sundays for years, but Sunday alcohol sales at convenience, grocery and package stores have been illegal in Georgia, one of only three states that still make such a distinction.
Mayor Kim Carter said she is in favor of a public vote on the issue and City Attorney Ed Crudup is researching the process. The council will have to approve a resolution to put the issue on the ballot.
"I am always in favor of letting the voters decide on issues and, thus, I am 100 percent in favor of passing a resolution to allow the issue to be placed on the ballot," Carter said in a Tuesday email. "From a public safety perspective, people that choose to drink on Sunday are already allowed to do so in restaurants. It will be much safer to allow folks to purchase alcohol in the form of package sales on Sunday and consume it at home instead of driving after drinking."
Councilman Chris Smith also said Tuesday he supported letting the taxpayers vote on Sunday package sales.
Carter said she had not heard from any business owners, but residents had expressed support for a referendum.
Porterdale, Newborn and Social Circle also allow alcohol by the drink, but none of the cities is actively pursuing Sunday package sales at this time.
Porterdale Mayor Bobby Hamby said he expected the council to discuss the issue at some point, while Newborn Mayor Roger Sheridan said the town council had decided not to act unless citizens actively requested a change.
Chairman Kathy Morgan said the Newton County Board of Commissioners has not had any discussions about the issue nor has she received any public input. Only the cities will have elections in 2011, so the county has another year to think about the issue.
The county does not even allow alcohol by the drink, so it's unclear if commissioners would support Sunday package sales. Commissioner Nancy Schulz replied simply: "Allow the voters to decide."
Grocery and convenience stores have been the main drivers behind the bill, aggressively lobbying the state legislature. Employees at chain grocery stores in Covington could not comment, but one employee with retail management experience said Sunday was the second busiest shopping day of the week behind Saturday. Groceries in Georgia are not allowed to sell liquor.
Package store owners across the state have either been opposed to the bill because it requires them to be open an extra day without an increase in business. Tom Joseph, owner of DJ's Package in Covington, was fairly indifferent
"It's not going to hurt my business, because I'm a member of the Georgia Alcohol Dealers Association and we made sure that liquor was included in the bill," Joseph said. "If Rockdale passes it, and we don't, that's really going to hurt Covington and Newton County, and I know Rockdale will pass it."
He said he didn't think his business would be helped either, because Georgians were already so used to buying liquor on Saturday or other days. The bill would allow sales from 12:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., but Joseph said if passed he would only open until 6:30 p.m.
Religious groups have historically opposed Sunday sales of any kind, and groups in Newton County have also opposed allowing by-the-drink sales in the county.
Chamber President Hunter Hall said the chamber does not have an official position on Sunday package sales, but does support by-the-drink sales in the county because it helps attract quality restaurants.
The council is expected to discuss the topic at a later work session once the city attorney has finished his research.