COLUMBIA -- Mary Dykes, a North Augusta resident for 50 years, says before policymakers make it easier for the community to purchase alcohol, they should consider its impact on young people.
She’s concerned about legislation moving forward in the S.C. Legislature at the request of city leaders, that would bump forward a possible referendum to legalize the sale of alcohol on Sundays.
“If you want to drink, that’s up to you if you want to kill your brain and your liver,” said Dykes, who was raised a Baptist and said she still believes the fundamental teachings.
“But I don’t want anybody saying everybody in North Augusta thinks it’s OK to run this through.”
The bill, H. 5098, was introduced by Rep. Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta, at the request of business leaders and city officials who said the 22,000-person community has been passed over by new businesses because of its alcohol-sales restriction. They point to neighboring Aiken and Augusta, both of which allow Sunday sales, and say voters should be allowed to decide whether to put North Augusta on a level playing field for attracting investment.
But for some, the effort is part of a troubling trend.
“Data on per capita consumption and DUI deaths show clearly that South Carolina can't hold its liquor, or beer or wine,” said Oran Smith, president and CEO of Palmetto Family, a Columbia-based non-profit that promotes traditional, conservative social values.
“Combined with a flurry of legislative loosening of alcohol laws in the last few years, we have a perfect storm,” added Smith.
“Bills like this make it easier to increase the flow of alcohol, and that isn't smart or safe right now.”
The bill, which has drawn co-sponsorships from the Aiken County delegation and others, would allow a ballot question on the issue to appear as early as the November presidential election. Under current law, the earliest referendum would be next April. Hixon and other supporters argue the legislation makes sense for taxpayers, who might otherwise have to pay extra to hold a special election.
The lawmaker, noting that he is a Baptist, said that some mistakenly believe his bill makes possible a referendum vote, when in fact, that’s already permitted. His bill allows the election to coincide with the November election, so that turnout is likely to be triple what it would be otherwise.
Meanwhile, others feel anxious for different reasons.
North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones said City Council has not decided whether a referendum would be for restaurants only or for an option that also includes beer and wine “over-the-counter” sales.
If stores are included, businessman Adam Howard said his expenses would rise, but his profits would not.
“I would have to open my store, pay my electric bill, run my beer cooler, pay employees,” said Howard, manager of North Augusta Wine & Beverage. “Just because you can buy it on an extra day, I don’t think people will consume more.”
Hixon acknowledged that City Council has the flexibility to put forward a ballot question to allow liquor stores to sell alcohol on Sunday, but he said that was never his intention nor part of his discussions with city leaders.
The community probably wouldn't vote for that anyway, he added.
“This is 100 percent, in my opinion, dealing with restaurants,” said Hixon. “I’m not for opening liquor stores up. We live on a border state. If you want that, you can go to Augusta. I don’t want that in North Augusta.”
The bill, which easily passed the House, recently cleared a Senate subcommittee.