Liquor bill on way to governor’s desk

Published 11:08 pm Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Liquor may be allowed for sale in Picayune restaurants, if a number of requirements are met.

House Bill 1441 has been passed by both houses and as of Wednesday morning was on its way to Gov. Haley Barbour’s office for his signature. Picayune Rep. Mark Formby said he expects Barbour to sign the bill.

If Barbour signs the bill, then it would be up to the residents of Picayune to present a petition signed by 20 percent of the registered voters in the city in order to call for a referendum. Formby estimates that about 1,200 signatures would be needed. If those requirements are met, then a referendum would be added to a future ballot and the residents would be able to vote on the issue.

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“It may never happen, somebody has to initiate it,” Sen. Sid Albritton said.

The issue at hand deals with House Bill 1441 allowing by-the-drink liquor sales in restaurants in Picayune by declaring the city a resort area, Formby said. Package stores are not included in the bill, so sale of liquor outside of restaurants would still be banned.

Formby said he is a firm believer that the city residents should be allowed to vote on the issue and this bill allowing that to happen is a partial victory for him.

Sen. Ezell Lee said he has been in the hospital for the past week and was not familiar with current version of the bill. He did have one comment about the bill, though.

“If people vote it in, then it’s up to the people to make the decision,” Lee said.

Albritton said he was a conferee for the bill and was involved in most of the negotiations. Previously, there were misconceptions about the bill stating that it would to establish resort areas such as Hide-A-Way Lake and Hillsdale, but Albritton said the bill was always aiming to establish a referendum vote in the City of Picayune.

Since a lot of tax revenue is lost to areas surrounding Picayune, such as Louisiana, this will give residents an opportunity to allow those tax dollars to stay in this area. Albritton said citizens and local businesses have been asking him for this option for a number of years. Picayune businesses are at a disadvantage by being in close proximity to areas such as Slidell, La., Albritton said. He said people from Picayune will travel to Slidell to eat and while there, spend their money in that area, instead of Picayune.

In the last county-wide liquor election, Albritton said it failed by a vote of 54 percent against turning the county wet, most of which came from county residents up north who do not go to Picayune. Precinct by precinct votes reflect that most of the voters in Picayune voted for the county to allow liquor, Albritton said.

“I’m pleased with what we got, and if the citizens don’t want it, they can vote it down,” he said.

Even if the county did vote to allow liquor to be sold in a county-wide vote, liquor would still only be legal to sell within the city limits of Picayune and Poplarville.

House Bill 1441 applies only to Picayune, Albritton said.

City council member Anna Turnage and council candidate Wayne Gouguet both said they think the city residents should be allowed to vote on this issue. Mayoral candidate Mark Thorman said he supports whatever decision the citizens of the city come up with, but thinks the extra sales would help the city in many ways.

Council candidate Lynn Bogan Bumpers said she does not have a problem with the sale of liquor in restaurants, since a lot of people like to have a drink with a meal. She did suggest that the restaurants have regulations against allowing people to leave the establishment intoxicated.

Council candidate Kimberly Chapman fears that allowing liquor into restaurants would give access to liquor to young people. Even though state law requires identification in order to purchase liquor, she said she has seen instances of young people purchasing cigarettes even though the same identification law applies.

A call to council member Donald Parker ended before he could make a comment and Council member Leavern Guy did not return a call Wednesday morning in order to make a comment. Other candidates for council and mayor, both incumbent and running, did not return messages. Messages left at several city churches were not returned by press time Wednesday.