In a battle of morality versus modernism, the Georgia Senate debated the issue of whether to sell alcohol at grocery and liquor stores on the Lord's Day for more than two hours before approving a proposal that would let local governments put the issue to voters.
The Senate voted 32-22 in favor of the measure. Columbus Republican Josh McKoon voted against the bill, which passed by three votes. Columbus Democrat Ed Harbison was absent because of a family medical emergency.
McKoon holds the seat previously held by Sen. Seth Harp, who had been the main backer of the bill the last four years.
"That is one of the reasons I wrestled with my vote," McKoon said. "I trust Seth's judgment."
McKoon said he voted against it because of studies that show an increase in alcohol-related vehicle accidents and deaths as a result of Sunday package sales. It is legal to buy alcohol by the drink on Sunday in Georgia.
"In New Mexico, where they had Sunday sales by the drink, there was a 29 increase of alcohol related vehicle accidents and 42 percent increase in alcohol-related deaths," McKoon said.
Jerry Luquire, who lives in Columbus, lobbied the General Assembly as president of the Georgia Christian Coalition. His main contention has been more people will die, due to an increase in sales.
“I’m disappointed, but it’s full force forward, as you know,” Luquire said Wednesday. “I look forward to working with local officials on this. Alcohol is a more volatile issue locally than statewide.”
He doesn’t see the issue showing up on ballots this fall, because it costs money to have special elections. He imagines the more likely time as 2012.
In Columbus, for instance, “council will have to pass it and put an election date on it, before you can get to the have’s and have-not’s.”
As with most people who want a law to pass, it’s better for a local referendum to stand on its own, Luquire contends, while people against the issue would want it as part of a general election.
The issue languished in the Senate rules committee for weeks before finally making it to the floor on Crossover Day -- the 30th day of the General Assembly and the deadline by which bills must pass at least one legislative chamber to have a shot at becoming law.
Religious groups have pressured lawmakers to kill the bill in the General Assembly before it hit Georgia communities.