Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. (File / WRDW-TV)
ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal signed legislation Thursday allowing Georgia voters to decide whether to permit stores to sell alcohol on Sundays.
The law takes effect July 1, but several communities are already moving quickly to put the issue to voters later this fall, including Woodstock and Loganville.
Only two states, Connecticut and Indiana, still have statewide bans on Sunday alcohol sales.
The legislation in Georgia passed after five years of stalling amid pressure from religious groups and a veto threat from then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Many restaurants and bars in Georgia already sell alcohol on Sunday. The new law would let voters approve the sales by grocery and convenience stores. However, local governments must first agree to put the measure on the ballot before voters can vote on whether to approve it.
The Georgia Christian Coalition pledged to take their opposition to local communities.
"This is our last opportunity to save lives," Georgia Christian Coalition President Jerry Luquire said, arguing that allowing Sunday sales will contribute to a spike in alcohol-related traffic deaths. "We are going to oppose it any way we can on the local level."
Store owners had been clamoring for the change, saying Sunday is now one of the busiest shopping days of the week for working families.
"For grocers, this legislation has always been about providing good customer service. It was our customers who encouraged us to pass local-option legislation, and it was ultimately our customers who are the winners," said Kathy Kuzava, president of the Georgia Food Industry Association.
Distilled Spirits Council President Peter Cressy called the new law "an important step for consumer convenience, market modernization and free enterprise sales in states across the country."
Sunday sales supporters mounted a heavy lobbying effort this year after Perdue departed. A teetotaler, Perdue had opposed the push to extend alcohol sales to the Sabbath and urged Georgians to plan their time better if they wanted to purchase a six-pack.
Deal, a Republican, signaled during his campaign for governor that he would sign the bill if it reached his desk. He said while he does not drink, he favors giving citizens the right to make the decision for themselves at the local level.
Deal had no comment Thursday. He signed the measure into law in a private ceremony with a handful of state legislators before heading to north Georgia to survey storm damage.