Georgia’s Sunday ‘brunch bill’ has stalled in the Senate

Out for brunch Sunday morning and craving a Bloody Mary? Don’t expect any relief this year.

A “better brunch bill” that would allow restaurants to sell alcohol earlier on Sundays has stalled in the state Senate, despite efforts to jar it loose by the Georgia Restaurant Association and others.

What's officially known as House Bill 535 passed the state House last year, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week that passage of the bill would upset what he called a "fragile compromise" between legislative leaders and the faith community over banning alcohol sales on Sunday morning.

“That is part of the reason for my opposition to it,” Cowsert said. “Because there was a bargain that was struck and now both sides are no longer willing to live with the bargain.”

Georgia once banned any sort of purchase of alcohol on Sundays, but lawmakers over the last several years have allowed Sunday sales as long as they were made after 12:30 p.m. Lawmakers did that, he said, because restaurant groups agreed to not push for earlier drinking times because “it offends the religious sensibilities of a large portion of the population.”

“We have some obligation to respect that majority of the population,” Cowsert said. “That’s a very small sacrifice for the millennial: On one of the seven days of the week, to not be able to start drinking until 12:30 p.m. — at least not in a restaurant. They’re certainly free to make a Mimosa at home if they’d like to.”

State Rep. Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, the bill's sponsor, has estimated almost $11 million in additional tax revenue for state and local governments if earlier pouring times were allowed on Sundays. Harrell, the former mayor of Snellville, has also noted that government-owned buildings — such as the Georgia World Congress Center or other convention centers — are already allowed to serve before 12:30 p.m. on a Sunday since the current restriction only applies to privately owned restaurants.

“The ‘Brunch Bill’ is not only important economically for Georgia restaurants, hotels and local governments, it responds to a frequent request of literally thousands of Georgians to enjoy a freedom in their own communities currently available only to certain government-owned properties,” Harrell said Thursday.

Karen Bremer, CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association, estimated that at least 4,000 restaurants across Georgia would likely take advantage if the law changed.

Cowsert said he remained unmoved.

“There are no concerts on Sunday morning. Conventions are leaving town on Sundays. So when the hospitality businesses are talking about how this is important, I think it’s really unlikely to me that a convention would elect not to come to Atlanta because they can’t serve alcohol in a bar or restaurant on Sunday mornings,” Cowsert said.

“I think that’s a stretch to argue that this would in any way hurt our convention business. If it would, then why are they still coming? Why have they for the last 30 years with that restriction in place?”

Restaurant owners, however, said serving alcohol earlier would make a big difference for their businesses.

“The difference in a restaurant downtown, for example, where we have ‘Falcons Sundays’ and the games start at 1’o’clock and the crowd starts to amass at 10 o’clock in the morning — it would give me an additional two hours of alcohol sales,” said Jay Kazlow, who owns Dantanna’s. “For that restaurant alone, just on Falcons Sundays and just on the eight Sundays a year if the Falcons don’t go to the post-season, we’re probably look at an $80,000-a-year increase.”

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