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More alcohol sales goal of bills in state Legislaturecomment (0)

March 15, 2012

By Sondra Washington

For the past several years, Alabama legislators have introduced and debated several alcohol-related bills during each legislative session. This year is no different.

Since most of these types of bills have previously succeeded in legalizing alcohol sales where they were not originally allowed or increasing the quantity and types of liquor sold across the state, most bills introduced this session focus on further expansion.

“They keep coming back and asking for little things, and it all adds up in the end to a freer flow of alcohol,” said Eric Johnston, president of the Southeast Law Institute. “They want to open the tap and keep the legislation flowing. … They are dealing with a volatile subject. … From their perspective, it’s something they would like to do, but on the other hand, alcohol (is a) problem — a big killer.”

Some of the bills being considered this session include Senate Bill (SB) 294, sponsored by Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, which attempts to increase the maximum beer container size from 16 to 25.4 ounces. In a little more than two weeks, Sanford’s bill was introduced and passed from the entire Senate. A companion bill, House Bill (HB) 264, was introduced in the House by Rep. Jim Barton, R-Mobile, and co-sponsored by Reps. David Sessions, R-Grand Bay; Jamie Ison, R-Mobile; and Chad Fincher, R-Semmes. It is uncertain which version of the bill will be considered in the House, but both bills have been placed in the Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

Another alcohol-related expansion bill is SB 358, sponsored by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, and co-sponsored by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, who is also the Majority Whip. It seeks to allow wineries to sell their wines in Alabama farmers’ markets, among other places. So far, the bill has been referred to the Senate committee on Job Creation and Economic Development. Similar bills, HB 149 and HB 372, sponsored by Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, have been introduced in the House and have been referred to the Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

“They are turning farmers’ markets into liquor stores,” said Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program. “The farmers’ markets are supposed to be family oriented. ... You will see an increase in underage people buying wine from farmers markets.”

Last year, Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw, introduced a bill attempting to legalize homebrewed beer, mead, cider and wine. According to Godfrey, the bill was “so dead on arrival” that it received the House Shroud Award for going “down in flames.” This year, he reintroduced the bill, HB 354, with several co-sponsors: Reps. Phil Williams, R-Huntsville; Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee Institute; Mary Moore, D-Birmingham; Mike Ball, R-Huntsville; Howard Sanderford, R-Huntsville; Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka; Thad McClammy, D-Montgomery; John Rogers, D-Birmingham; Dan Williams, R-Athens; Joe Hubbard, D-Montgomery; Elaine Beech, D-Chatom; Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham; and Jim Patterson, R-Meridianville. It has already passed from the Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

In addition to these bills, Dallas County legislators are trying to allow a referendum on Sunday alcohol sales in their region with HB 266, sponsored by Rep. Darrio Melton, D-Selma, and co-sponsored by Rep. David Colston, D-Hayneville. The bill has passed the House and is being considered in the Senate, where Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, has already introduced a companion bill, SB 267.

Rep. Todd Greeson, R-Ider, introduced HB 129 to authorize draft or keg beer or malt beverages in Fort Payne. The bill has passed the House and is currently in the Senate Local Legislation No. 1 committee.

Ball, along with his co-sponsor Hubbard, introduced HB 289, to allow brewpubs to “conduct on-premise tastings or samplings of their products and sell their products for off-premises consumption.”

Godfrey said there is talk of introducing another bill to privatize ABC stores, which would lead to “increased consumption of alcohol and more alcohol-related problems” in the state. He is rallying support from Christians to “tell our representatives that this is not good for Alabama.”

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