A Senate shakeup could give ‘mimosa mandate’ new life

It's been called the brunch bill and the mimosa mandate.

Whatever the name, the measure to allow Georgia restaurants to serve morning cocktails on Sundays has been dead in the water the last few years at the Legislature. That’s because it’s been tied up in the Senate each year by some powerful opponents.

But a leadership shuffle announced Friday has supporters brimming with optimism. The new chair of committee that will handle the measure is also one of its lead sponsors.

That would be state Sen. Frank Ginn, who takes the helm of the Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee when the Legislature reconvenes on Monday.

“The issue has been well vetted the last few years, but I feel like we have an opportunity to bring it to a vote this year,” said state Rep. Brett Harrell, a sponsor of the bill. “I’m optimistic this will happen this year. It’s a good sign.”

The measure, Senate Bill 17, would allow restaurants to start alcohol sales at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays - and its sponsors pitch it as an issue of fairness.

They’re quick to note that government-owned buildings face no restrictions to serve booze on Sundays while privately-owned restaurants do. And they have the backing of powerful groups, including the Georgia Restaurant Association.

The committee switch, though, by no means guarantees victory.

The measure has been blocked for the last three years by Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, who has said it could sully the Sabbath. It’s unclear whether he will revive his opposition this year, but he has said it could ruin the “fragile compromise” lawmakers have forged with faith-based leaders over alcohol sales on Sunday mornings.

That compromise was a hard-fought win for the alcohol industry. Georgia once banned any sort of purchase of alcohol on Sundays, but lawmakers over the past several years have allowed cities to vote whether to allow Sunday sales - as long as they are made after 12:30 p.m. Dozens have adopted the new rules, including Atlanta and most other major cities.

State Sen. Renee Unterman, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, said she respects the concerns from critics but that she’s confident a broad majority of lawmakers will support the measure if it reaches a vote.

“I’m always the optimist,” she said. “But I’ve also done a lot of the groundwork in the interim.”