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Stadium beer bill may be dead
Link to statewide Sunday sales seen as poison pill

ATLANTA - Gwinnett lawmakers are backing away from legislation authorizing Sunday beer sales at the planned baseball stadium near Buford, citing House leaders' determination to link it with controversial statewide Sunday liquor sales.

"I'm not going to ask for it like it is," Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, the stadium beer bill's Senate sponsor, said this week.

"I don't want to carry the bill," added Rep. Bobby Reese, R-Sugar Hill, chairman of Gwinnett's House delegation. "My district is too conservative for that."

Unterman steered the bill through the Senate last month. The version that passed that chamber would authorize beer to be sold on Sundays at the Gwinnett home of the Atlanta Braves AAA affiliate when the club moves from Richmond, Va., to the new stadium on Ga. Highway 20 for the 2009 season.

But the close vote in the Senate was a harbinger that trouble was brewing for the legislation.

It passed by just 30-20, one vote more than the 29 needed to clear the 56-member body.

Sen. Seth Harp, R-Midland, warned at the time that House Republican leaders were going to use the Gwinnett bill as a vehicle to get his Sunday liquor sales bill to the House floor.

Harp's bill, which would let local governments ask their voters whether to allow supermarkets and convenience stores in their communities to sell alcohol on Sundays, has failed to reach the Senate floor for two years in a row.

The senator's prediction came true two weeks ago when the House Regulated Industries Committee - over Unterman's strenuous objections - voted to combine the two measures in a single bill.

Rep. Roger Williams, R-Dalton, the committee's chairman, said he is working to get the legislation through the House Rules Committee and onto the floor for a vote in the waning days of this year's session.

"We're trying to see what kind of vote count we've got before we take it to the floor," Williams said this week.

Reese said he doesn't believe Williams will be able to round up enough support among House members to pass Sunday liquor sales and that the bill - including the stadium beer measure - will die without ever getting to the floor.

"We probably won't see it," Reese said.

Rep. Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula, whose 105th House District includes the stadium site, said efforts are under way to determine whether there's a way Gwinnett County could legally authorize Sunday beer sales at the new stadium without legislation from the General Assembly.

"It's questionable as to whether this has to be done or not," she said.

But even if no legal loophole can be found, Sheldon said prohibiting beer sales at the new stadium on Sundays wouldn't necessarily be a catastrophe.

"We're hearing from constituents who aren't too upset that beer won't be allowed at the stadium on Sundays," she said.