Ward, Hill wonder what governor can do to save county’s Sunday liquor sales

Published 5:24 pm Thursday, May 7, 2009

State Rep. Mike Hill said he has never seen it rain so much in such a short amount of time as it did this morning in Montgomery.

“I pulled into the back of the State House and saw a wall of water pouring over into the first level of the parking deck, where the legislators park,” said Hill, R-Columbiana. “The cars parked on the lower deck were flooded, had water up to their windows.”

Flooding in the State House this morning forced the building to be evacuated. The basement of the building suffered about four feet of water.

The House was reconvened in the Old Capital chambers.

That evacuation potentially delayed further consideration of the Shelby County Sunday alcohol sales legislation by the State Senate.

The Senate, in a 13 to 17 vote Wednesday, failed to override Gov. Bob Riley’s veto of the bill, which would have allowed restaurants in Shelby County who own a club liquor license to continue to sell alcohol on Sundays.

The bill also would allow for municipalities with fewer than 7,000 residents to vote on whether they want alcohol sold in their communities.

The Alabama House voted handily last week to override Riley’s veto. They did so without any votes in favor of override from the Shelby County delegation.

Earlier this year, the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board changed the way it has interpreted Alabama law for many years and notified restaurants in Shelby County that sell alcohol on Sunday – all which do so because they hold a club license – that they will no longer be granted that club license when they expire Sept. 30. That means those restaurants will no longer be able to sell alcoholic beverages on Sunday.

“Months ago, the governor told us that he thought Shelby County restaurants had a good point, that those businesses located here under the assumption they could sell alcohol and that we needed to find a way to fix the issue. He didn’t want any new restaurants to be able to get a club license, but he wanted to maintain the status quo,” said State Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.

Ward said when State Rep. Jimmy Martin, D-Clanton, introduced House Bill 175, he told the Shelby County delegation that it was “a great opportunity to put an amendment on his bill to allow those restaurants in Shelby County to keep their dual licenses.”

An amendment to the bill was added and it passed by the House and Senate and went to Riley’s desk for his consideration.

“The governor doesn’t like the municipal options part of the bill and told us he wanted a stand-alone bill on the Shelby County issue,” Ward said. “We told him that was not possible at that point.

“The governor told us he could not sign the bill because of the municipal options, and our Shelby County delegation told him we were not going to vote to override his veto, and we didn’t,” Ward said.

He said Riley spent time at the State House on Wednesday, lobbying senators to vote against overriding his veto of the bill.

“In the seven years I’ve been here, I’ve only seen that happen one other time,” Ward said.

The governor said in a press release issued late Wednesday that he would work with Shelby County restaurants to bring them into compliance and allow them to continue with Sunday alcohol sales.

However, Ward and Hill question how that’s possible.

“The governor said he would have the ABC board delay enforcing the new rules, but you can’t have it both ways. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong,” Ward said.

Hill said he was surprised, “real surprised,” by the state senate’s failure to override the governor’s veto, “because they passed it by a rousing majority.”

“As of yesterday, the governor kept sending us word for us not to worry, that he was going to take care of the Shelby County restaurants. He was trying to keep us out of the fight, but we weren’t lobbying against him,” Hill said.

He said he’s sorry for the plight of Shelby County restaurant owners who invested millions of dollars to locate here because they were assured by the state and county they could sell alcohol on Sundays.

“All of a sudden, the state has changed all that. I don’t know what to tell them. The governor kept sending us word that they don’t need to worry, but I don’t know how he can take care of it,” Hill said. “The fact that these restaurant owners were basically lied to makes it very hard not to be concerned for them. It’s a tough thing, a tough thing to cope with.”

Hill said the Senate could still revisit the issue before it adjourns for the year next Friday.