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In an effort to keep up, Henry County to rewrite its alcohol laws

Henry County’s last overhaul of its alcoholic beverage licensing laws occurred in the 1980s, when the south metro community was still mostly rural and brew pubs and distilleries weren’t part of Georgia’s economic landscape.

A lot has changed in the intervening decades. Henry is now the second fastest-growing county in Georgia.And Craft breweries, wineries and other liquor operations have boomed across the metro area as the beverage industry has found new popular ways to distribute their goods.

But that activity hasn’t come to Henry and county leaders want to change that trajectory as part of a broader effort to compete economically with surrounding communities in the metro area.

To that end, the county is embarking on a major revision of its local alcohol ordinances in 2019.

“The alcoholic beverage industry, like so many other industries, is changing and changing dramatically and our ordinance today does not deal with a lot of things that are becoming more routine and commonplace,” county attorney Patrick Jaugstetter said during a Henry Commission meeting Tuesday.

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The dynamic alcohol industry and consumer demands have led state and metro counties to adjust ordinances to regulate everything from the legal way to take home unfinished bottles of wine from restaurants to purchasing growlers — a jug used to transport beer purchased at a pub from one place to another.

Last year, the Georgia legislature gave counties the go ahead to hold voter referendums on whether to allow alcohol to be served in restaurants before 12:30 p.m. on Sundays.

Voters last November approved the so-called “brunch bill” referendums in cities and counties across the metro area — including Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Atlanta, Fayetteville, Douglasville and Johns Creek.

Jaugstetter on Tuesday discussed the possibility of bringing a similar “brunch bill” referendum before Henry voters, but no timeline was set.

To kick off updates to its ordinance, the Henry commission on Tuesday approved lowering the age that wait staff can serve drinks from 21 to 18, as is now common practice in metro Atlanta and much of America, said Commissioner Dee Clemmons.

“All of our municipalities have this in place,” she said of the lower age limits in Stockbridge, McDonough and Hampton. “As a county, we should be leading instead of following the municipalities.”

Patrick McHugh, who operates 15th Street Pizza & Pub in unincorporated Henry, said changing the age limit levels the playing field. He’s had to pass on hiring many college students because they were younger than 21 when just a few miles away inside Stockbridge a competitor could scoop them up.

“We could offer them a dishwasher or hostess position but they couldn’t be a server with us,” he said.

Wait staff can earn anywhere from $17 to $22 an hour including tips, said Karen Bremer, executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association. That pay drops to $12 to $20 an hour for those working in the kitchen.

Other areas that Jaugstetter hopes to address include laws to regulate farm wineries, of which the county currently has none.

He also wants address local ordinances to govern wholesalers of alcoholic beverages as well as curbside delivery of liquor at grocery stores.

In some of the cases, the ordinances don’t exist on Henry’s books, but are governed by the state. Still, local counties can enhance some of the laws. For example, Henry hopes to address so-called wine “doggy bags,” which allow restaurant patrons to leave eateries with their unfinished bottles as long as they are resealed.

“This is not going to be a quick process,” he said. “This is a comprehensive rewrite of things.”

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