City councils in Lincoln, Talladega, Sylacauga and Oak Grove all passed resolutions last spring in an effort to persuade Talladega County’s legislative delegation to introduce a local bill that would put the question on the ballot in those cities.
A patchwork of laws across the state allow the sale of alcohol in some places, but not in others. City leaders say it can make a big difference in decisions about where restaurants choose to locate. Beer and wine sales can add a lot to their bottom line, and the inability to make those sales to diners during peak weekend hours can tilt a decision one way or the other. That affects the tax revenue the cities collect, job opportunities, the city’s image and the quality of life in the community.
Some want to hold on to one of the few remaining vestiges of Blue Laws, enacted to keep the Sabbath holy, and some simply don’t condone the consumption of alcohol.
As a general practice for local bills, if the legislative delegation is unanimous it sails through both houses in Montgomery without objection. A single objection can kill the proposal.
That happened in previous attempts to let the people of these cities have a vote on the issue, and with all of the state’s legislators facing reelection next year, it’s a controversial question most of them would prefer to avoid in 2014.
The current patchwork system sets up an element of competition between municipalities that shouldn’t exist. In the past counties held referendums to become “wet” or “dry,” and beyond that the same rules should apply to everyone. Instead legislators have created a system that has given themselves the power to pick winners and losers based on personal conscience, political expediency or a passing whim.
Passing a bill to allow the referendum isn’t the same as approving or disapproving of alcohol. Rather it puts the task back on local leaders to take the issue to the people in their communities for a decision.
Ideally, our state’s representatives should level the playing field by making the same rules apply for everyone, but that’s not going to happen. The next best thing would be for them to let the people decide the issue for themselves.