Compromise could lead to passage of Sunday alcohol sales law

Louisiana Politics
Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - 10:43pm

Compromise may lead to a repealing of East Baton Rouge's blue laws when Metro Council convenes on Wednesday.

The council will discuss, and likely vote on, two separate ordinances involving alcohol sales. One would allow bars to open on Sundays, and let restaurants and grocery stores sell alcohol during their regular business hours. The other would allow businesses to apply for permits that would allow them to stay open until 4:00 a.m. three days a week.

Sunday sales were rejected when the issue first came up for a vote two weeks ago. Some council members thought the risk of drunk drivers outweighed the benefit to local businesses.

"Bar owners and business owners in general, I believe that the government should generally take a step back from regulating them," said Councilwoman Alison Gary, who wrote the proposal.

Removing restrictions from grocery stores is "just a matter of convenience to me," Gary said. "If I'm there at 10:30 as opposed to 11:00, I feel like I should be able to buy a bottle of wine."

Most of the people who spoke with NBC33 on Tuesday were in favor of rolling back the restrictions. But the percentage was higher among younger people.

"No reason not to (repeal the law)," said Cody Pfister, "as far as I'm concerned."

"Church and state should be separated, I feel like," said Tommy Clark. "Why would it just be Sunday? Why not Tuesday?"

Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White was one of the strongest critics of the plan when it was first proposed, saying that it would lead to a large increase in the number of drunk drivers. So Councilwoman Gary revised her initiative.

"I talked to Chief White," she said, "and he said that he would feel much more comfortable if, on Sundays, bars were allowed to stay open until midnight, because as he explained it, a lot of their calls to bars are between the hours of midnight and two."

Gary said her constituents agree with the change.

"Most of the calls and the feedback that I'm getting," she said, "an overwhelming majority, has been in favor of repealing the blue laws, and just letting people decide for themselves and letting business owners decide for themselves what they want to do on Sundays."

"It'll be beneficial for the people owning the bars. They'll be able to bring in more money," said Nick Bennett. "And as long as it's not hurting anyone around the area, I don't think that it'll be a bad idea."

Gary says she looked for compromise, because the details are not as important to her as the principle.

"The idea that a business owner is not allowed to open up one day out of the week," she said, "is just not fair to me."

The Metro Council will take up the issue of late-hours permits for the first time Wednesday. Operators would be able to ask for permission to stay open two hours later. If granted, the permit would cost $40,000.

Gary was hesitant to say if she would support the idea.

"And I understand what Councilman (Ulysses) Addison's trying to do," she said. "He's trying to fund enforcement. I just don't know, I don't necessarily think that that's a fair way to do it."

Both proposals are on the agenda for the council's meeting at 4:00 p.m., Wednesday, October 24th.

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