Alcohol sales bill closing in on vote

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, April 2, 2009

A bill allowing municipalities in dry counties in Alabama with at least 1,000 residents to hold a wet/dry referendum is closing in on Senate approval after three amendments were approved Thursday.

The state Senate may vote next week on the bill, which was approved earlier by the Alabama House of Representatives, giving each of the current dry municipalities in Chilton County except Maplesville the right to hold a referendum.

State Sen. Hank Erwin, who is strongly opposed to the bill, said the amendments “strengthen it,” though he has plans to vote against the measure.

“I have not changed my opinion on this bill because the pastors in Chilton County who represent 15,000 residents have not changed theirs,” Erwin said Thursday. “These amendments in my mind simply strengthen the bill.”

The first amendment raises the minimum population requirement to 1,000. The original bill set the minimum of 500. This change eliminates the town of Maplesville, which has a population of 672.

The second amendment raises the required number of needed qualified petition signatures to call for a referendum. The original bill required the number of qualified signatures be at least 25 percent of the total number of residents who voted in the last municipal election. The amendment raises the number to 30 percent.

“In towns with this small a number, that is not really that big of a difference,” State Rep. Jimmy Martin said. Martin agreed with Erwin on each of these Senate amendments being added.

The third amendment calls for a 2-year moratorium, or break, between wet/dry votes, meaning that if a called referendum fails, groups must wait at least two years before requesting a new vote.

“These really don’t do a whole lot to the original bill,” Martin, who sponsored the House bill, said. “These are amendments that help the bill get passed.”

Erwin said the bill, which was put on hold slightly this week to add the amendments, is now in a position to be called for a vote next week.

“I am disappointed that I may not be able to stop this bill,” Erwin said in an e-mail statement Thursday.

As for Martin, he said his effort in this bill has been to allow the people to vote.

“This bill does not make any town or county wet,” Martin said. “This bill simply allows for the people to vote and decide for themselves.”