UPDATE: Some toast-worthy news here. On Friday, March 13, the House passed HB 535, the Georgia Brunch Bill. Next, the bill moves to the Senate where it will undergo a vote. If the Senate approves, and Governor Deal signs the bill into law, we will be well on our way to Sunday morning cocktails and beer, possibly as soon as September.
ORIGINAL POST: As early as this fall, Georgians could get a morning Mimosa with their Sunday brunch. The Georgia Restaurant Association is courting support for HB 535, the Georgia Brunch Bill, which would give municipalities the option of permitting restaurants to serve alcohol as early as 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.
Current law restricts businesses from selling alcohol for on-premise consumption on Sundays until 12:30 p.m. But state-owned facilities such as the Georgia World Congress Center are free to start pouring at 10:30 a.m. According to HB 535 sponsor Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville), the proposed change could rack up an additional $100 million in taxable sales, making this a presumed bi-partisan no-brainer for the legislative session.
Worth noting: The law would only apply to those counties and municipalities that have already enacted Sunday sales. The earlier time would not apply to sales for off-premise consumption—so those sad little signs at the grocery store telling you it’s not yet time for booze would stay put.
This morning, I spoke with Rep. Harrell and Karen Bremer, executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association, about the bill’s potential impact and next steps.
Why is 10:30 a.m. the magic time?
Karen Bremer: That’s when the state-owned facilities can serve alcohol. Places like the Georgia Dome, Phillips Arena, Lake Lanier Islands. We want to bring our membership in line with what state facilities already have.
Rep. Brett Harrell: Georgia has historically been a conservative state in regards to alcohol, so it’s best to move in a methodical way. The easiest point of comparison is the number of state facilities that permit at 10:30. This seems to be a reasonable, incremental step; it ought not generate negative opposition.
Clearly this is a carryover from the Blue law days. Why has it taken so long to revisit?
Bremer: It seems to me that over the past few years, as leadership gets younger in our state, there’s more openness to having laws that are similar to surrounding states. We were the last state to repeal Prohibition in 1937—we still have laws on our books from 1937.
Was it difficult to find a sponsor?
Bremer: No, but before I found a sponsor, I was careful about talking to any interested parties including the leadership in all of the chambers, the Department of Revenue, the Attorney General’s office, the Association of County Commissioners.
Can you break down the financial impact for the state?
Harrell: We believe that of the 17,000 restaurants in Georgia, 4,000 would be able to participate once HB 535 became law. That’s $100 million in additional taxable sales for Georgia, including alcohol taxes, sales taxes, and maybe even employment taxes if businesses are able to grow.
Bremer: We calculate that the increase of two hours in Sunday alcohol sales would average $480.77 per restaurant in that time period, adding up to $25,000 per year in average sales for each business. That’s a pretty significant economic impact.
Bremer: The bill goes to the Rules Committee on Wednesday, then to the floor of the House to be voted on by the entire body.
Harrell: It could potentially be on the House calendar by Friday which is our crossover day. My understanding is it will find favor in the House. Then it will go on to the Senate.
If the Senate passes the bill, how soon could municipalities approve? When can we have morning-time Bloody Marys?
Bremer: As long as the governor doesn’t veto, and to my knowledge, he is not necessarily taking a position on this, laws generally go into effect on July 1.
Harrell: City governments typically take about 60 days to generate new ordinances based on state law. Some communities will need to draft the change of ordinance, have a preliminary hearing to get input, then put it up for a vote. Atlanta has a significant number of restaurants that might benefit from this, so they might move quicker. So maybe in September.
Bremer: There will be communities who opt not to serve alcohol. But in areas where there’s a lot of tourism, leisure travel, urban culture, and international visitors, we believe municipalities will be looking to opt in.