ATLANTA - A House committee threw a monkey wrench Wednesday into legislation authorizing Sunday beer sales at Gwinnett's new baseball stadium by attaching a statewide Sunday sales measure that Gov. Sonny Perdue has threatened to veto.
Over the adamant objections of Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, the stadium bill's chief sponsor, the House Regulated Industries Committee voted unanimously to combine the Gwinnett measure with legislation allowing voters to decide whether liquor can be sold on Sundays in supermarkets and convenience stores in their communities.
The retail sales bill has languished in the Senate for two years, facing strong opposition from Christian conservatives. The amendment route was the only path left to get it before lawmakers this late in the current session.
The problem with that thinking, Unterman warned Wednesday, is that combining the bills will mean failure for both.
"If it goes to the governor's office, it's going to be vetoed," she said. "I say you have to separate the two issues."
The Senate passed the stadium bill 30-20 last month. It 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.
In pitching the bill on Wednesday, Unterman said it makes no sense that current law allows alcohol to be sold and consumed on Sundays at restaurants near the site of the new ballpark but would prohibit beer inside the stadium.
"You literally could almost hit a baseball (from the stadium) into a facility that's selling beer on Sunday," she said.
"People who go to a baseball stadium (on a Sunday) want to have the ability to drink a beer."
Committee members agreed with that fairness argument and, in fact, used it to justify attaching Sunday retail sales to Unterman's legislation.
"People could come to grocery stores and convenience stores, buy whatever they want and go home with it," said Rep. Roger Williams, R-Dalton, the committee's chairman. "I see that as much less dangerous than going to a ball game, drinking a beer, getting into an automobile and running the risk of killing people."
But Unterman said she never intended for the Gwinnett bill to be hijacked by the statewide measure.
"My issue is a stadium issue," she said. "I want this stadium. I want the beer. But I'm not going to vote for Sunday sales."
Rep. Allen Freeman, R-Macon, responded by accusing Unterman of hypocrisy by pushing Sunday beer sales to baseball fans as an economic boon to Gwinnett County while being unwilling to entertain the idea of Sunday sales elsewhere in Georgia.
"You support Sunday sales because it's good for you," he told the senator. "But you don't want to give the economic development to everybody else."
After the vote, Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley appeared to justify Unterman's concerns that folding Sunday sales into the legislation would hurt the stadium bill's prospects.
He said the governor, who doesn't drink, wouldn't be inclined to sign the Sunday sales measure. On top of that, Brantley said, Perdue doesn't like it when the legislature passes bills on more than one subject.
"If an idea has merit, let's let it stand on its own," Brantley said.