A bill that would allow the sale of alcohol in restaurants beginning at 11 a.m. on Sundays has passed the Senate. Voters would still have to give final approval in local referendums. File photo

Bill that would grant earlier Sunday drinking clears Georgia Senate

After several years of failed attempts, a bill to expand the sale of alcohol on Sunday mornings cleared the Senate on Tuesday.

State Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, said the legislation was a compromise made to appease opponents of the bill, including several who object to any expanded access to alcohol.

Stacey Abrams is running for governor.

Senators voted 38-18 to send the bill to the House for its consideration. Versions of the legislation have made it through the House chamber in prior years, but they always stalled once they reached the Senate.

“The bill has been simplified and it’s had a lot of media attention, but I think everybody understands what they’re voting on,” Unterman said in brief remarks before the vote.

Speaking against the bill, state Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, said he believed lawmakers should look out for the interests of “those who truly cannot look out for themselves.”

“I would submit to you that many of the problems that we are called upon to address begin with an abuse of alcohol,” he said. “Every year we’re down here, we’re looking to expand the use and the opportunity for our citizens to make the mistakes that cost our society.”

Unterman said she introduced Senate Bill 17 to let private businesses do what the state-owned Georgia World Congress Center already does, which is serve alcohol at its facilities on Sunday mornings.

State Rep. Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, who has sponsored versions of a “brunch bill” in the past, said expanding hours helps meet the desires of tourists who visit Georgia and contribute to the state’s economy.

“We hear it all the time from restaurateurs and consumers,” he said. “It’s an issue that gets a lot of attention from travelers in our state and our resorts and so forth.”

In a compromise reached last week with the bill’s opponents, the legislation would bump the time for alcohol sales at privately owned restaurants and wineries that serve food from 12:30 p.m. to 11 a.m. on Sundays, but not at grocery stores.

Previous versions of the bill this year would have allowed alcohol sales to begin as early as 10 a.m. and permit customers to buy the beverages at stores.

State Rep. Meagan Hanson, R-Brookhaven, said while she is pleased the measure cleared the Senate, representatives still need to decide whether they’re comfortable with the time sales are permitted being later than originally proposed. Hanson will help steer the bill through the House this year.

If it clears the General Assembly, locals would have to approve a referendum to make the time change.

Though he said he personally was opposed to expanding alcohol sales on Sundays, state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said he supported the bill because it would let local residents decide whether they wanted to allow the earlier drinking.

“I believe that most bills should have access to the ballot,” he said. “Though, if this ever came to (my voting precinct), I would vote against it.”

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Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this article.