Vote on legalizing liquor set for March 19
New Albany aldermen voted Tuesday night to set an election for March 19 to decide whether liquor and wines of more than five percent alcohol by weight can be sold inside the city limits.
Mississippi law requires the board to hold an election if a group presents petitions asking for the vote signed by at least 20 percent of the registered voters; they have no choice.
The local group “New Albany Spirit” turned in part of the petitions Jan. 23 and the rest Jan. 29. The circuit clerk’s office validated 1,081 signatures, slightly more than the 1,056 required. The number of current registered voters is 5,280.
An election could not be held earlier than now because state law mandates a period of at least two years between elections to legalize or make illegal sale of liquor (the period for beer and light wine is five years).
Union County rejected making liquor sales legal by a 57-to-43-percent margin in 2008 and again in 2011 with 61 percent opposed compared to 39 percent in favor. New Albany voters legalized sale of beer and light wine in January 2010 by a closer 54-to-46-percent ratio. City precincts have shown proportionately more pro-alcohol votes than those out in the county in the elections.
Before this year, liquor and wine votes had to be county-wide even though liquor could only be sold inside city limits or specifically designated resort areas.
A change in the law this year makes it possible to hold the election only within the city limits, and if the issue passes, liquor still would only be sold inside the city.
Senate Bill 2497 passed by the 2012 Legislature now allows any county seat or city of more than 5,000 people to hold a municipal election to decide alcohol legalization if its county has previously voted on and rejected it. Voters in Corinth held such an election on Dec. 11 and approved legalization by a large margin. Ashland held a vote Dec. 18 and it did not pass.
One difference in a municipal-only liquor election is that if voters approve liquor sales, city officials can choose to limit sales to on-premises retailers by the drink only, without making provision for package stores and by-the-bottle sales.
Either way, alcohol could not be sold within 400 feet of a church, school, kindergarten or funeral home unless the point of sale and the church, school, kindergarten or funeral home are “in an adjacent commercial or industrial district.” In that case the minimum distance would be 100 feet. A church or funeral home may waive the distance requirement; a school cannot.
The ABC limits on-premises sale of alcohol to from 10 a.m. to midnight, except on New Year’s Eve when service can continued until 1 a.m. if the day is not a Sunday. The local governing authority can petition the ABC to change hours of service in some cases and approved resort areas are not subject to the same hours of sales. Approval as a resort area involves a lengthy process with local government support and public input considered. Hours of sale are more limited on Sundays and for package stores.
Regardless of the March 19 vote, it will be another two years before a group can present petitions again.
J. Lynn West
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