Legislation that would expand Sunday alcohol-pouring hours in Georgia restaurants by two hours will get a second shot next year.
House Bill 535, dubbed the Sunday Brunch bill, will be reintroduced in the state Senate during next year’s Georgia General Assembly and could see strong momentum, say its supporters.
If approved, the legislation would allow municipalities to opt in to permit their restaurants to start serving alcohol on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Today, restaurants must wait until 12:30 p.m. to pour a drink.
During the last session, the legislation passed through the House of Representatives. But it was halted in the Senate Rules Committee and didn’t make it to the Senate floor for a vote.
“It’s still alive in the Senate,” Rep. Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, the measure’s chief sponsor, said at the Dec. 9 annual meeting of the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association. “I’ll work with the Senate lead and see if they’re willing to call it for a vote. I think if we put it on the floor, it will pass overwhelmingly.”
Yet, Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, said the bill would face opposition due to religious reasons. He said the restrictive hours were part of the original passage of the Sunday sales legislation that Gov. Nathan Deal signed in 2011.
Some downtown Atlanta restaurants are pressing hard for the legislation to be approved. That’s because some state-owned facilities including the Georgia World Congress Center, Georgia Dome and Lake Lanier Islands today can serve alcohol at 10:30 a.m., which some believe is unfair.
“The government has an unfair advantage over the restaurant industry,” said Karen Bremer, executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA), a strong supporter of HB 535.
Take for example STATS, a sports bar near the Dome.
“If we have a 4 p.m. Falcons game on Sunday, we make about $40,000 in revenue for the three hours leading up to the game,” said Brian Bullock, managing partner at Legacy Restaurant Partners, which owns and operates several restaurants in the Luckie-Marietta District, including STATS. “If we have a 1 p.m. Falcons game, we do about $2,200.”
The Georgia Restaurant Association estimates about 4,000 restaurants could benefit from the legislation, earning an extra $480.77 on average each Sunday (or roughly $25,000 a year). The total economic impact could be around $100 million in extra revenue across the state. More food and beverage sales also mean more tax revenue for the state and more jobs. The GRA projects an additional $11 million in sales tax if the bill passes.
“The impact is massive,” Bullock said. “We don’t understand the whole reason why we are struggling to get this through. We don’t see any public resistance to this … We are a restaurant city and people love to go out to brunch.”
Bullock added the legislation could help boost the city’s image to visitors. Atlanta is expected to welcome a record 50 million domestic visitors in 2015. “People visiting the city Sunday morning are shocked they can’t have a drink,” he said.
Other nearby states allow earlier Sunday alcohol sales, such as Florida, which starts at 7 a.m. Other states such as South Carolina and Alabama allow local referendums to decide.
“I think it’s an important bill,” Harrell said of HB 535. “It offers a lot of opportunities for business people to expand their offerings.” He added if the bill passes, nothing automatically would change in the state. It would be up to local city councils and county commissioners to decide whether they want to allow different pouring hours on Sunday. “They would have to choose what is best for the community,” Harrell said.