Today’s column from the Courier Herald. Yes, I realize you may be feeling there’s a bit of overkill with the Sunday Sales posts today. No, it’s not the only issue we care about around here. But it is one where perhaps the amount of double talk, false support, and lack of intestinal fortitude seems to waste a good 10-15 days per session of the general assembly, only to vaporize into an effort of futility. It’s time to quit wasting time with this issue. It’s time for a recorded vote.
It was just last Monday that I wrote that the battle over Sunday sales of alcohol was over before it began, and that the Christian Coalition had decided it had been outflanked, while the Chamber of Commerce was putting on a full court press to gain the bill’s passage. One week later, as is often the case in politics, the bill now appears to be dead for the session.
The bill, officially known as SB 10, does not in and of itself make alcohol sales from liquor, convenience and grocery stores legal on Sunday. It legalizes a process that would allow local governments to determine if they wanted to put before their citizens a vote to determine if local community standards supported expanded alcohol sales. Supporters have positioned the bill as a vote for local control. Opponents have fought the bill as an abomination.
While newly elected Governor Deal had indicated he – a non drinker – would sign the bill, it appears that some severe miscalculations and a lack of intestinal fortitude among some senior Senators have again doomed the bill to another year in committee, far away from a floor vote that would put Senators on record as to whether they actually support this bill or not.
Most Senators privately claim that they are for this bill, but they also fear a backlash of social conservative voters, who are believed to be more “single issue” in nature when arriving at the polls. And thus, Senators this year seemed to devise a plan that would put the burden of passing this legislation on the record crop of freshmen legislators. The more senior Senators would thus be spared the unpleasant backlash as they continue to prepare to move up various political ladders.
The bill this year was assigned not to the Regulated Industries committee, where it has been dutifully kept from the floor the past two sessions. Instead, it was assigned to the obscure SLoGo Committee, which oversees State and Local Government issues, and is- probably not coincidentally – chaired by a freshman Senator, Butch Miller. The bill was passed out of the committee, but not with some of the technical corrections recommended which became obviously apparent as needed as it headed to the Rules Committee. With the bill needing to go back to SLoGo, the Christian Coalition and other social conservative groups had time to crank up their phone banks, and began asking the freshmen why they were supporting a bill that more seasoned Senators were less committal on. Freshmen started to feel like they were being had, and support for the bill began to vaporize.
Further compounding the problem is the continuing leadership vacuum in the Senate. With Casey Cagle stripped of power, there is no single person for the Governor or Speaker of the House to negotiate with. In an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s James Salazar, Majority Leader Chip Rogers said of a “gentleman’s agreement” with the House that the Senate would vote first that he “wasn’t a party to that meeting” and then went on to disavow almost any knowledge of how any Republican Senator felt about this bill. There is, clearly and simply, too much of a leadership vacuum in the Senate for a bill with this level of controversy to pass at this time.
In the grand scheme of things, Sunday alcohol sales is not in the top 100 problems facing the State of Georgia. Yet, session after session of the General Assembly continues to be dominated by backroom dramas as this bill is trotted out, given hearings and even an occasional committee vote, only to be buried again for another year.
It is time for the Senate and House to move on from this issue. The bill should be brought to a full recorded vote. It’s what real leaders would do.