Sunday sales roar back; deadline looming

Photo by Paul Murphy

Photo by Paul Murphy

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Sunday alcohol sales roared back to life at the state Capitol on Monday as the bill's sponsor said he sees fresh support for the measure, now set for a key test in the Senate Rules Committee.

The legislation had been dormant for weeks after Senate Republicans -- facing pressure from religious groups -- said they didn't have the votes to push it forward.

It would allow local governments to let voters decide through ballot referendum if they want to permit the Sunday sale of alcohol in stores. Georgia is one of just three states that bans the practice.

Word of the apparent revival of Sunday sales came as Georgia lawmakers plowed through dozens of bills as a "crossover day" deadline looms. Wednesday -- the 30th day of the 40-day legislative session -- is the final day by which bills are supposed to pass at least one chamber to become law.

Sen. John Bulloch, R-Ochlocknee, said he believes he now has the votes to pass the bill out of committee and win the full Senate's approval.

"I just asked the leadership to whip the question again," Bullock said. "They have said what the majority of our caucus wanted was what we're going to do. I feel like we have more than the 29 votes we need to pass it."

The Senate approved a bill allowing licensed gun owners to carry their weapon anywhere except into prisons, jails, nuclear power plants and state mental health facilities. The measure passed by a vote of 43-10. Among the places that people could carry guns under the legislation are restaurants, churches or political events. Gun owners would be excluded from carrying in prisons, jails, at nuclear power plants and state mental health facilities or into county or municipal government buildings without permission from the local governing authority or into courthouses past the security checkpoint.

Also Monday, the House passed a bill designed to ensure that private citizens don't have to register as lobbyists if they meet with lawmakers about legislation.

The bill's sponsor, House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, an Atlanta Republican, said the changes were needed after a state Ethics Commission advisory opinion. It held that under the sweeping 2010 ethics law nearly anyone who has contact with lawmakers on legislation must register as a lobbyist.

The new bill says individuals would only need to register if they spend more than $1,000 and more than 10 percent of their time on lobbying activities.

But Jim Kulstad, lobbyist for the watchdog group Common Cause Georgia, said while he supports much in the bill, the 10 percent limit is a major loophole that could open the door to corporate lobbying that would not need to be disclosed.

The bill now heads to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.