“This is becoming more important to our retailers,” she told a Senate committee last week. In passing the bill, she told lawmakers: “You are making a lot of customers and retailers happy in this state. Your constituents will be very happy.”
Harrell's legislation, House Bill 879, passed his chamber before the General Assembly suspended the 2020 session in March because of the pandemic. When it returned earlier this month, he made passing the measure a priority.
Karen Bremer, the CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association, asked lawmakers to make sure her businesses would be allowed to continue delivering.
“Fifteen weeks ago I represented an industry that was the second-largest private employer in the state,” she said. “We were on track to do $25 billion in revenue this year and employed 500,000 people.”
Bremer put losses since the March onset of the pandemic at $4.8 billion statewide, and she said 300,000 employees have been laid off.
Under the delivery bill, 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.
The measure 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.
Not everyone likes the bill.
While some liquor store owners told senators they wanted to be included in the delivery business, Stony McGill, a lobbyist for the Georgia Alcohol Dealers Association, said the 500 small stores he represents would be at a disadvantage because they are not set up with websites and a delivery system.
Harrell's bill excluded liquor stores from being able to deliver liquor to customers, but Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, added them to the measure Monday, saying local retailers need help.
“It is consistent with the changes we are seeing in retail,” Miller said. “The internet and online purchases are destroying hometown businesses, brick-and-mortar businesses. COVID-19 put the final nail in a bunch of local retailers. Local retailers support the community.”
Religious groups have also traditionally opposed these kinds of bills.
“As usual, we have concerns about the expansion of the sale of alcohol,” said Michael Griffin, a lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “Accessibility equals sales, sales equal consumption. The more you consume there is the potential there for problems.”
Final passage in the House this week would prove another major shift in the way the General Assembly has viewed the sale of alcoholic beverages.
"Twenty-five years ago just any bill was called a liquor bill and you'd have trouble passing it," said Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain. "We've changed a lot over the years."
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.