Georgia House panel backs grocery store deliveries of beer, wine

Lawmakers approved Sunday sales of beer and wine in grocery stores in 2011. ELISSA EUBANKS

Lawmakers approved Sunday sales of beer and wine in grocery stores in 2011. ELISSA EUBANKS

Almost a decade after the General Assembly approved Sunday alcohol sales by stores, lawmakers may be moving to allow them to deliver beer and wine to Georgians.

The measure's sponsor, Rep. Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, said it's a matter of convenience for Georgians who are increasingly getting groceries delivered.

House Bill 879 won approval Tuesday from the House Regulated Industries Committee and now heads to the full chamber for a vote.

For decades, Georgia had restrictive alcohol sales laws, and it took about five years of sessions for the grocery and convenience store lobbies to persuade the General Assembly to allow Sunday retail sales of beer, wine and liquor. The measure only passed in 2011 after Gov. Sonny Perdue, a religious conservative who opposed it, left office.

At the time, Georgia was one of only three states with a complete ban on Sunday alcohol sales at stores.

Harrell said his bill is a reaction to changing times.

“It’s just a response to consumer demand,” Harrell said. “One of the companies that delivers in other states had over 400,000 requests for delivery in calendar year 2019 for delivery, and they had to say ‘no’ to every one of them.

“Clearly, there is demand, and more and more people are ordering groceries online. It’s just a convenience for the consumer.”

Under HB 879, beer or wine couldn’t just be left on the front porch, like Amazon deliveries. The delivery person would have to check IDs to make sure the buyer is old enough to purchase alcohol.

HB 879 would allow local municipalities to opt out of allowing alcoholic beverage delivery. The liquor store lobby asked out of the bill, so Georgians wouldn’t be able to get a delivery from a liquor store.

House Regulated Industries Chairman Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, was a co-sponsor of the legislation and called it "a very good bill."

Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, has some concerns because the government classifies it as a carrier/shipper, and those kind of companies are excluded from making deliveries under the bill. That means Amazon couldn’t deliver beer or wine from its own grocery store.

HB 879 also will face a fight from religious conservatives, who worked hard to keep a lid on the Sunday sale of alcohol, calling it an attempt to chip away at the Christian Sabbath.

“We oppose all expansion of accessibility to alcohol,” said Mike Griffin, lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “The more people who have alcohol accessible, the more they will buy and the more they will drink. And any time you increase consumption, it causes potential for problems.”