House committee approves two bills to loosen Alabama alcohol restrictions

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The House Committee on Economic Development and Tourism approved two measures Thursday aimed at loosening alcohol restrictions in the state.

SB219 from Sen. William Beasley (D-Clayton) would allow state and retail liquor stores to conduct liquor and wine tastings on premise. The measure would allow 10 percent of stores to do so in the first year and eventually move up to 28 percent within three years.

The bill allows for two quarter-ounce tastings of liquor and four one-ounce tastings of wine.

Joe Godfrey, Executive Director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, was on hand to oppose the legislation, urging lawmakers to make it more difficult to get alcohol.

“Alcohol is an addictive and mind-altering drug,” Godfrey said. “It destroys homes, it destroys families.”

Gina Dearborn, who represented the Distilled Spirits Council, was in favor of the measure. Dearborn noted that 40 states already allow such tastings, and Alabama’s laws would be stricter than most – tastings must begin before 6 p.m. and manufacturers would oversee the tastings at no cost to consumers or retailers.

The committee gave the legislation a favorable report by a unanimous vote.

HB325 from Rep. James Buskey (D-Mobile) addressed a specific issue concerning Lake Patti Sue in Slocomb. The 160-acre property straddles a wet and dry county and the owner is hoping to sell alcohol at the recreational spot. Buskey’s legislation would allow him to do so, even on portions that sit within the dry county.

The bill would make the lake a “commercial development district” and have no bearing on the parts of the county outside of the property. Similar bills have already passed.

Again Godfrey objected, asking whether such a move is constitutional.

“You’re imposing something on people who have not voted to go wet,” Godfrey said. “We keep inching and, eventually, the plan is for the whole state to be wet. I don’t believe that’s fair to the citizens of that dry county.”

Rep. Tommy Hanes (R-Scottsboro), who lives in a dry county, concurred with Godfrey’s reasoning.

“It goes against your people if they don’t want it to be wet,” Hanes said.

The bill was given a favorable report with Hanes the only one to vote against it.

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