An unending appetite: The Capitol quest for another bite at the apple

Credit: Jim Galloway

Credit: Jim Galloway

Appetite is an important factor at the state Capitol.

This is because change comes in increments. Lawmakers and the people behind them usually require several passes at a topic before they’re satisfied with the results.

“Bites at the apple” is the phrase that’s usually applied. Some issues get more passes than others. This is where appetite comes in.

In 2011, the Legislature conceded a long-fought point and agreed to allow local communities to decide for themselves whether to allow the Sunday sales of alcohol in grocery, convenience and liquor stores.

A tinge of blue was allowed to remain in Georgia law. Sunday sales cannot begin until 12:30 p.m. – a restriction that includes restaurants.

For the last two sessions, the Legislature has been mulling House Bill 535, the “brunch bill” – also known as the “Mimosa mandate” — that would allow restaurants to serve alcohol after 10:30 a.m. Sunday, subject to municipal approval.

The Georgia Restaurant Association estimates that this would allow an extra $481 in business per restaurant each Sunday, generating $11 million more a year in taxes.

But the restaurateur argument also has this wrinkle: Georgia already allows Mimosas to be served at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, but only if the restaurant has a lease to operate on state property. Rather like gambling is illegal in Georgia, a blight on human affairs — unless it is conducted through the Georgia Lottery Corp.

The elite skybox crowd at the Georgia Dome can tipple at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. So can the ladies who brunch on Lake Lanier Island, or at private country clubs. It is up to the rest of us, at government direction, to uphold the Sabbath.

HB 535 passed the House last year, and has spent this session stalled in the Senate. This week, we finally found out why. Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens has put a hold on it.

In an interview with my Journal-Constitution colleague Kristina Torres, Cowsert said the forces of libation had their bite at the apple five years ago. And like Adam and Eve, once was enough.

“I think, just from the public policy end of things, that our state has gone through this debate for many years and we have reached a fairly fragile compromise between the faith community and the business community,” Cowsert said.

“That is part of the reason for my opposition to it. Because there was a bargain that was struck and now [they] are no longer willing to live with the bargain,” the senator from Athens said.

So in this particular case, an appetite for more is ungentlemanly, verging on immoral.

Contrast that with gun legislation in the state Capitol. On Friday, the Senate gave final passage to a bill that for the first time would permit firearms on all public university and college campuses in Georgia. The fact that only concealed pistols will be allowed, carried by permit holders who are at least 21 years old, was touted as a safety measure.

Gov. Nathan Deal has indicated he intends to sign the bill into law.

House Bill 859, backed by the National Rifle Association, is only the latest in a string of Second Amendment bills to roil the Legislature in the last decade. Bites of the apple occur every election year, and we are not yet close to the core. SB 282, a bill to prohibit lending discrimination by banks against the gun industry, has passed the Senate and now sits in the House Banking Committee.

Last week, prior to the final vote, state Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, declared that his appetite for gun legislation was very nearly sated. Perhaps the 18-year veteran felt allowed to say this because he had also just announced that he wouldn’t be running for re-election this year.

“As somebody who’s been here a while, every year having another gun bill – at some point in time, you want to go, ‘Can we just have a session without a gun bill?’” Williams said during an interview on GPB’s “The Lawmakers.”

“Legislators who introduce red-meat bills every year for re-election purposes – it’s a concern. We’ve got really strong gun laws in Georgia. Maybe we need this, but I have some consternation about a major gun bill every year,” Williams said.

The comment earned Williams some attention from WSB Radio provocateur Erick Erickson. Whose listeners perhaps encouraged Williams to work on his appetite.

Williams took one more bite at the apple on Friday, and voted in favor of HB 859 — one of 37 senators to do so.