BREAKING NEWS – Miss. lawmakers say OK to local liquor proposal

Published 1:12 pm Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Margaritas in a corporate booth at the minor league baseball park? Merlot in an upscale restaurant?

Voters in three Mississippi cities will get to elect whether to allow the sale of wine or hard liquor by the glass at restaurants, hotels or other establishments that sell food in designated resort areas.

A final version of the bill to allow the local liquor elections passed the Mississippi House and Senate on Tuesday. Barring any last-minute procedural moves by lawmakers on Wednesday, the bill will head to Gov. Haley Barbour.

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People in the central Mississippi cities of Flowood and Pearl and in south Mississippi’s Picayune would be allowed to vote on the liquor sales.

The bill also would authorize the sale of liquor by the glass at a development in north Mississippi’s Tishomingo County, but without a referendum first.

Package-store liquor sales would still be banned in the four areas, as would the sale of liquor in clubs that don’t sell food.

There was no push for a liquor election in Tishomingo County, but many lawmakers from Flowood, Pearl and Picayune sought to ensure their constituents would have a voice.

“I thought it was a very fair bill because of the fact that it gives people a chance to vote on a very controversial issue,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, whose district is affected by the bill.

Pearl and Flowood are suburbs of the capital city of Jackson, which allows liquor sales in restaurants and package stores. Some developers have complained about not being able to build upscale restaurants in the suburbs because of the current Rankin County law that allows the sale of beer but not wine or liquor. The entire city of Flowood would be designated a resort area, but only part of Pearl would be.

The proposed area in Pearl is in the western part of the city, near the Mississippi Braves minor-league baseball park. Beer can be sold at the ballpark now. Kirby said if liquor is legalized, it’s likely that mixed drinks would be sold in the park’s luxury suites.

During the House debate Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Deryk Parker of Lucedale said he objects to expanding liquor sales, even in parts of the state that are not near his legislative district.

Parker said the consumption of alcohol can lead to drunken-driving accidents or domestic violence conflicts that kill or maim people. He asked House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, whether any legislator who votes for a liquor bill would be partially responsible for such incidents.

“Would that blood be on my hands?” Parker asked.

“I don’t think so,” Watson replied, “because we have what is called personal responsibility.”

Mississippi has 82 counties and a patchwork of laws that regulate where beer, wine and liquor can be sold. Some counties ban the sale of any type of alcohol. Others allow only beer and wine coolers, and only on certain days of the week. Still others allow the sale of liquor in restaurants seven days a week but require package stores to be closed on Sundays.

The bill is House Bill 1441.