ATLANTA - Local governments across Georgia could choose to allow Sunday sales of beer and wine in supermarkets and convenience stores under legislation introduced Thursday by a Republican senator.
The bill would authorize city and county elected officials to put Sunday alcohol sales before voters in their communities.
Indeed, local control promises to be a major argument legislative backers will use in trying to sway their colleagues to disregard expected opposition from Christian conservatives and support the measure.
"I believe strongly that we as senators have our first responsibility to the citizens of our respective districts,'' Sen. Seth Harp, R-Midland, the bill's chief sponsor, said Thursday in a speech on the Senate floor. "The opportunity to allow them to make that decision is one of the most fundamental rights that exists in our form of government.''
The General Assembly passed legislation a decade ago allowing local-option Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages in bars and restaurants.
But the legislature has rejected periodic efforts since then to extend the law to retail stores.
Georgia, Connecticut and Indiana are the only states in the nation that don't allow Sunday retail sales of beer and wine.
Harp's bill has the backing of the grocery and convenience store industries, which post signs and darken beer and wine aisles on Sundays to show shoppers that those products are off limits.
Jim Tudor, a lobbyist for the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores, pointed to two recent polls as evidence that the state is ready for Sunday sales of beer and wine.
The surveys, conducted by renowned national polling firm Mason-Dixon and by Atlanta-based Insider Advantage, found support for giving voters a say on the issue at 68 percent and 66 percent, respectively.
Tudor said many of today's Georgians have moved from other states and are used to being able to buy beer and wine on Sundays along with their other groceries for the week.
"For many of our stores, Sunday is the first or second busiest shopping day of the week,'' he said.
But Sadie Fields, chairman of the Georgia Christian Alliance, said her organization and others that oppose the bill believe Sunday should be treated as a holy day, as is taught in the Bible.
"We're always in favor of free enterprise,'' she said. "But the Sabbath has been a day of worship, rest, family and reflection.''
Christian conservatives likely will be joined by Georgia's liquor story lobby in working against the bill. Since the legislation would apply only to beer and wine, liquor store owners argue it would be put them at a competitive disadvantage.