Metro Council votes to relax ‘blue laws’
by rebekah allen
Advocate staff writer
October 26, 2012
“Voting no tonight goes against the votes of citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish.” dixon mcmakin, Baton Rouge resident
People soon will be able to buy a drink from a bar on Sundays in East Baton Rouge Parish following a Metro Council vote Wednesday to relax the parish’s blue laws.
Bars will be allowed to serve alcohol between 11 a.m. and midnight on Sundays, and stores will be able to sell alcohol prior to 11 a.m., under the measure adopted by the council.
A separate proposal to give bars the option to extend their hours to 4 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays died after the sponsor, Councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison, deleted his proposal at the beginning of the meeting.
The Metro Council voted, 8-3, in support of Councilwoman Alison Gary’s proposed amendment to the parish alcohol ordinance, with Donna Collins-Lewis absent from the meeting.
Gary, Trae Welch, Addison, Chandler Loupe, Scott Wilson, C. Denise Marcelle, Joel Boé and Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois voted in favor of the proposal to relax the parish’s blue laws, while council members Mike Walker, Tara Wicker and Ronnie Edwards voted against it.
Earlier this month the Metro Council nearly killed a similar measure that would have allowed bars to open Sundays from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Gary said she amended her proposal after speaking with Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White, who initially opposed the expansion of alcohol sales because he predicted it could lead to more violent crime.
“He said it made him feel better because between 12 and 2 (a.m) is when they get most the calls,” Gary said.
The ordinance change will go into effect once Mayor-President Kip Holden signs it into law but, if 12 days passes without action, it will automatically become law.
Holden was not present for the council meeting and his chief administrative officer, William Daniel, said he could not speculate on when the measure might be signed.
Wicker she didn’t want to make the debate a “religious issue” but reminded council members that “heaven does record everything so after this decision one day you’ll have to stand before God” and justify the vote.
She said she opposed the measure as a health and safety concern. She said her husband, who was a state trooper, saw many drunken driving fatalities.
Des Crawford, a Baton Rouge resident who moved from New Orleans, reminded the Metro Council of when blue laws used to prevent women from buying panty hose on Sundays.
She said when the Baton Rouge blue laws were first explained to her, someone described them as “anything the Metro Council thinks is a sin.”
She also told the Republicans on the council that they should support the measure because it’s pro-business.
Walker was the only Republican who voted against the measure.
“I hear a lot of lip service to creating jobs and getting rid of government regulation, so why do you cling to outdated, job-killing government regulations?” Crawford asked.
Dixon McMakin, another Baton Rouge resident, reminded the council that voters have already demonstrated support of Sunday alcohol sales, when 61 percent of voters in 2007 voted to allow retail stores to sell alcohol after 11 a.m.
Before the 2007 vote, beer — but not liquor or wine — could be sold in stores after 12:30 p.m. on Sundays.
Restaurants could sell alcohol after 11 a.m.
“Voting no tonight goes against the votes of citizens of East Baton Rouge parish,” McMakin told the council.
Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards said crime has worsened in her district since the 2007 public vote to relax the blue laws.
She said she could not support the measure given the link between alcohol-related deaths and alcohol and drugs.
The Metro Council was also expected to vote on a proposal that would have allowed bar owners to purchase a $40,000 permit to stay open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until 4 a.m.
Addison, who sponsored the measure, said it was intended to provide additional funding for the Alcoholic Beverage Control office for more enforcement personnel.
Addison said that since he introduced the proposal, the ABC office was authorized to add additional investigators and he no longer felt it was needed to generate the funds.
Addison said he would have never supported an ordinance that would have easily allowed bars to open until 4 a.m., noting last week that the $40,000 permit fee was likely only attainable for casinos.
Gary said removing the blue laws has always been in the back of her mind because she thought they were unfair to business owners.
“It’s not a make or break issue, but I do feel like people look at us a certain way because of our antiquated laws and it keeps us from being a great city,” Gary said.
Gary, a lame-duck councilwoman who chose not to seek re-election, said she would have pushed the change even if she were running for re-election.
Blue laws are named for being religiously based laws, observing Sunday as a day of rest.
They generally restrict the sale of alcohol, but decades ago, they also affected the sale of other goods.