Senate OKs Sunday beer at ballpark

ATLANTA - Gwinnett baseball fans would be able to enjoy their favorite adult beverage at the planned stadium near Buford on Sundays under legislation approved by the Senate on Tuesday.

The bill, which passed 30-20 and now goes to the House, would plug a gap in current law that allows Sunday sales of beer at publicly owned stadiums, coliseums and auditoriums inside city limits but not in unincorporated areas.

The AAA Gwinnett Braves plan to begin play in the spring of next year at a stadium to be built on Ga. Highway 20 near the Mall of Georgia in unincorporated Gwinnett.

"Baseball, beer and peanuts, they are as American as apple pie," Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, said Tuesday as she pitched the bill to her Senate colleagues.

"It's ironic that in the county, we already have restaurants that can sell beer on Sundays, but the state law doesn't allow beer on Sundays in the stadium."

The entire Gwinnett Senate delegation voted for the bill except Sen. Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, who was absent on Tuesday.

But the legislation drew opposition from other senators opposed to Sunday sales of liquor in any form for religious reasons.

The Christian Coalition of Georgia has spearheaded opposition to a bill introduced last year to let counties decide whether to permit grocery stores and convenience stores to sell alcohol on Sundays in their communities.

Opponents were worried on Tuesday that Sen. Seth Harp, chief sponsor of the Sunday sales measure, would try to resurrect his languishing legislation by attaching it either to Unterman's bill or another bill sponsored by Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, allowing limousines to sell alcoholic beverages.

Balfour's legislation passed 40-11.

But Harp, R-Midland, decided to let both bills go through unscathed.

That still leaves the possibility that a supporter of Harp's bill in the House might try to hijack the Gwinnett stadium legislation or the limousines measure and make it a vehicle for Sunday sales.

But House Majority Leader Jerry Keen threw water on that theory several hours after the two Senate votes.

Keen, R-St. Simons Island, said there's no reason for the House to take up a controversial issue like Harp's Sunday sales bill when the Senate just had that chance and refused to do so.

"What we need is a commitment from the Senate leadership that they will vote on that bill," he said. "That's what we're elected to do."

Jim Beck, president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, called Tuesday's Senate votes a victory for opponents of Harp's bill because it was not attached to either measure.

"We make a distinction between alcohol sold by a vendor - at a bar or at a stadium - and packaged alcohol sales where no liability is attached should someone over-serve a customer," Beck said.