Commissioner: Defeat of stadium beer bill would complicate plans

ATLANTA - A prohibition on Sunday beer sales at Gwinnett's new baseball stadium wouldn't blow up the project, Commissioner Lorraine Green said Thursday.

But unless Georgia lawmakers find a way to extract the controversial Sunday liquor sales issue from legislation intended to apply only to the planned ballpark, county officials and representatives of the Atlanta Braves may have to revisit an agreement to move the team's AAA affiliate to Gwinnett next year, Green told reporters at the Capitol.

"The stadium will be built," she said. "(But) we would hate to have to reopen those negotiations at this late date."

Green was invited to downtown Atlanta on Thursday by Sen. Renee Unterman, one day after the Buford Republican watched helplessly as a House committee inserted the Sunday sales debate into her bill.

The measure is headed to the House floor for a vote as early as next week.

"This is a stand-alone issue," Unterman said Thursday. "When I brought it to the table, I brought it as one issue."

Unterman's bill authorizing Sunday beer sales at the Gwinnett stadium was made necessary by an omission in current law.

While Georgia law allows beer to be sold on Sundays at stadiums inside city limits, the current statute does not apply to facilities in unincorporated areas. The new ballpark is to be built off Ga. Highway 20 east of Interstate 85 in unincorporated Gwinnett.

"Every other stadium within the borders of Georgia is located within a city and able to offer suds on Sunday," Green said. "This just addresses a technical issue. It's not on par with a major policy issue."

But the House Regulated Industries Committee turned the stadium bill into major policy legislation when it voted unanimously to graft onto it Sunday sales legislation that has languished in the Senate for two years.

The measure would allow local governments to ask voters in their communities whether to allow supermarkets and convenience stores to sell beer and wine on Sundays and package stores to sell distilled spirits.

Unterman told committee members that adding Sunday sales to her bill is sure to draw a veto from Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The governor, a non-drinker who opposes Sunday sales, said Thursday the committee was wrong to combine the two measures.

"I was hoping they were going to have a clean stand-alone bill for the economic development project up there," Perdue told reporters. "It puts Gwinnett County's business in jeopardy."

With a projected $15 million in annual economic impact potentially on the line, Unterman said she hopes Gwinnett County's House delegation will step up to the plate and work to convince their colleagues to pull the Sunday sales issue out of the stadium bill.

Rep. Bobby Reese, R-Sugar Hill, chairman of the local House delegation, said he is planning to schedule a meeting of Gwinnett lawmakers to determine a unified strategy.

"We were definitely against putting the bills together," he said. "That's a death wish on any Sunday sales."