Legislation allowing counties and municipalities of Georgia to put a Sunday alcohol sales referendum to voters has been in the news for months – first as legislators were trying to get the bill passed, later as Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill into law and most recently as the law went into effect, which was July 1.
Now we hear or read from time to time of a local government, such as Savannah and Statesboro, that has already declared its voters will choose in November whether or not they want to be able to purchase alcohol at grocery and convenient stores on Sundays. But here in Bryan County, the future of voters getting a chance to make the decision is uncertain.
As Crissie Elrick reported in Wednesday’s edition, neither the Bryan County Board of Commissioners, Pembroke City Council nor Richmond Hill City Council have formally discussed adding the Sunday sales referendum to their ballots on Nov. 8, the same day when city residents will elect or re-elect council members and voters countywide will decide the future of the special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST. But because elections for all jurisdictions are being held this fall, we hope all three of these governmental boards will give their residents the opportunity to decide for themselves if they want Sunday alcohol sales available in their hometowns.
In Elrick’s article, Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler stated that unless a large group goes before the council to request the referendum be added to the ballot, he doesn’t foresee it happening. While we fully encourage residents to have their voices heard by their local elected officials, we would like to think that wouldn’t be necessary and that those officials would just give residents their right to vote on the matter – without having to be asked. If voters don’t want alcohol sold in stores on Sunday, let them say so.
The point – and the reason legislators required in the law that this be put to referendum – is for communities to decide for themselves. Not adding Sunday sales to the ballot in November, we believe, would be a disservice to the voting public.
Sam Davis, the county’s elections supervisor, was unavailable for comment this week. But a media relations spokesperson with the Secretary of State’s office said because there are already elections countywide this year in Bryan, there would be no additional cost to adding the referendum to the ballot. The only associated cost would be in advertising – as required by state law – that the referendum is being added to the ballot.
So as it stands now, we see no reason why the voters of Bryan County, Pembroke and Richmond Hill shouldn’t get the chance to make this decision for themselves. Putting Sunday alcohol sales on the ballot won’t mean you are in support of the referendum. It just says you trust your constituents to make their own choices.