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Uncorking new alcohol laws
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Like most big businesses, the alcoholic beverage industry is well represented at the state Capitol in Atlanta. This past session they were very busy with a host of bills dealing with alcohol being debated.   

There were no less than seven bills involving alcoholic beverages that were taken up this past session. Of these seven, six passed and one failed.    

One of the bills that passed was HB 1061 that will allow Georgians to order wine over the Internet or via telephone directly from wineries.  

Starting July 1, wineries that have a shipping license from the Georgia Department of Revenue will be able to ship up to 12 standard cases of wine to one address or person in Georgia per year.   

Online verification systems or physical inspection of identification will be required of wineries to check buyer’s ages.

“Alcoholic Beverages, Adult Signature Required” will have to be stamped on each shipment and shippers will be required to get a signature from a person older than 21 before the wine can be delivered.   

SB 385 also passed and will allow limousine carriers to sell alcoholic drinks to passengers. Limousine companies will now be able to buy alcohol from retailers and resell it to passengers of legal drinking age, a point made quite clear for those high school students who often lease limousines to provide transportation to the senior prom.   

Bars and taverns will be prohibited from selling any alcoholic beverage that is produced by an alcohol vaporizing device as a result of the passage of HB 1066. These highly intoxicating devices can be very dangerous when misused and potentially fatal.

HB 336, which increases the penalties for drunk driving convictions, also passed.  Under this new law a fourth DUI conviction within a 10-year period will result in a prison sentence of at least a year and a fine between $1,000 and $5,000.

The “merlot to go” bill or SB 55 also passed. This bill will allow Georgians who consume part of a bottle of wine when dining out to take the unconsumed portion home with them, as long as it is resealed and put in the trunk, locked glove compartment or space behind the last row of car seats. Some referred to this as a “doggy bottle.”

Supporters of this bill pointed out that before passage, a person had to decide to finish a bottle of wine that they had already paid for or leave it at the restaurant. In many cases, they argued, restaurant patrons drank the remainder of the bottle and then got behind the wheel when they shouldn’t.  

The final alcohol bill to pass was HB 1280 that will allow alcohol to be served on Sundays at a Gwinnett County minor-league ballpark, the new home of the Atlanta Braves AAA minor league baseball team. County leaders described revenues from this new law  as essential to the ballpark being built and were successful in separating this issue from the more controversial statewide “Sunday sales” issue.

Legalizing Sunday sales of beer and wine in package stores and grocery stores was the intent of SB 454, which never made it to the House floor for a vote. Gov. Sonny Perdue, who is reported to have once compared Sunday sales to prostitution, had promised to veto the bill if it ever got to his desk.  

The bill would have allowed local communities to vote on Sunday beer, wine and liquor sales and although supporters pointed out that it had polled well among voters, in the end it was felt that many politicians would feel a backlash at the polls in the fall if the legislation were to pass.

With or without Sunday sales, alcoholic beverages were quite the focus of the state legislature this past session leading more than one legislator to proclaim, “Cheers!”  

Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) is the state representative for the 159th District.