City and county elected officials are expected to decide if they want to put the question of Senate Bill 17, commonly known as the Brunch Bill, to the public in a referendum in the November general election.
The bill, signed by Gov. Nathan Deal in May, allows the public to vote to push back on-site alcohol consumption sales hours from 12:30 p.m. to 11 a.m. on Sundays.
While it may seem like a simple question, some believe the consequences can be more far-reaching than the walls of alcohol-serving establishments.
Archie Prince, owner and chef at Coastal Kitchen, said his restaurant at Morningstar Marina on St. Simons Island does good business during brunch hours, and he hopes to see the bill pass.
“I definitely support it. I want to get it done so we can serve alcohol earlier,” Prince said.
Local and state-level individuals and organizations have been pushing for such legislation for quite a while, said Dave Snyder, president of Halyard Restaurant Group, which operates three restaurants on St. Simons Island.
“I’m a member of the Georgia Restaurant Association board. We’ve been fighting (for) this for four years. We finally got some cooperation in the legislature for it. We’re glad to support it,” Snyder said.
Private clubs and state-owned facilities, like Mercedes-Benz Stadium, can already serve alcohol before noon on Sundays, he added.
“We just want to make an even playing field,” Snyder said.
Although her restaurant doesn’t open early enough on Sundays to be impacted by the bill, Susan Bates, owner of Tipsy McSway’s in downtown Brunswick, also supported the bill.
“I support it. I think it’s good for the tourism business, which we count on so much in Glynn County. I’m personally not a brunch place and don’t open until after lunch on Sundays, but I go to brunch, and I would like to have a mimosa with my brunch,” Bates said.
Before the public can vote on implementing the bill locally, the Glynn County and Brunswick City commissions have to make resolutions to put the referendum on the November general election ballot. Commissioners have their own opinions on the bill.
Peter Murphy, commissioner for St. Simons, Jekyll and Sea islands, said he’s talked to many people who have some interest in the bill, and decided he fully supports it.
“It seems like a minuscule change that will do the public no harm, so I am in 100 percent support of getting this passed,” Murphy said. “It seems like a reasonable and harmless change that would be a benefit to Glynn County restaurant owners. I say yeah, let’s get it done.”
Commissioner Bob Coleman, on the other hand, is strongly against the bill.
“I was born and raised in a Baptist church. I’m still in the pew on Sunday in that church. You’ve never seen me sit up there and make a motion on an alcohol license,” Coleman said.
He has voted for and against alcohol licenses but hasn’t made the motion himself, he said.
“You know what I say, you can’t walk 100 yards in Glynn County without finding someone to buy alcohol from. It’s just not needed,” Coleman said. “I don’t see why that’s got to be like that. The Sunday sales thing, it is what it is, but it’s gone. You can see the snowball effect it’s had. When we passed Sunday sales you could buy alcohol at a restaurant if they were at 50 percent service, and it’s just snowballed from there. Now the package stores are open on Sunday.”
He’s not against having a referendum on it, however.
“I think we ought to have a referendum on it. We should put it out there and let the people do what they do,” Coleman said.
Commission Chairman Bill Brunson said he didn’t know how he felt about the bill itself, but that he wouldn’t stop a referendum.
“I don’t feel like we can preclude the people from voting on it. We should put it to a vote and let the public vote on it,” Brunson said.
Brunson said the county commission will talk on Tuesday about putting a referendum on the November general election ballot. If the commission decides to do so, it will vote on whether or not to hold a referendum at its Thursday meeting.
In Brunswick, City Commissioner Julie Martin said she thinks the bill makes sense for a community heavily dependent on tourism for its economy.
“I think it could be a good boost,” she said. “I think Sunday brunches are times when folks would perhaps like to enjoy an alcoholic beverage — and that’s sort of what brunch is thought of in the South. I don’t necessarily see the harm in it. It’s not different from any other day of the week. Times changes. I think sometimes you have to go with the flow.”
Although she represents Brunswick’s South Ward, Martin thinks the Brunch Bill would be a boon to the islands communities if voters approve it in November.
“Countywide, as far as our resort areas go — Jekyll, St. Simons, Sea Island — I think tourists would appreciate it and enjoy a nice, relaxing brunch,” she said.
City Commissioner Johnny Cason echoed Martin.
“I think the voters should decide,” Cason said. “Any time we can get the consensus of the voters on something like this — something that affects so many people — I’m all for it.”
Also on the pro-referendum side is City Commissioner Vincent Williams. He said Thursday he planned to vote in favor of sending the matter to referendum.
“I don’t have a problem with it one way or the other,” Williams said.
Some local clergy members like Chris Winford, pastor of First Baptist Church Brunswick, will vote no in a referendum.
“I am 100 percent for allowing the citizens of Glynn County to vote for the Brunch Bill,” Winford said. “However, when it comes time to vote, I will vote against the Brunch Bill for two reasons.”
The first reason is personal, he said. At 16 years old, Winford said his best friend was killed in a car crash related to drunk driving. He saw the true impact alcohol can have on a person in his friend.
“I remember spending many nights cleaning up after him because of his binge drinking,” Winford said.
He has seen people drink responsibly since, but “the glitz and glamour of alcohol lasts only for a fleeting moment,” he added.
His second reason for a no vote is bcause in his 20 years as a pastor, he has seen the toll alcohol can take on families and marriages.
“I teach the members at FBC Brunswick and I teach my children to ask this question when it comes to decision making: What is the wise thing to do?” he said. “Not, is it permissible or legal, but is it wise.”
City Commissioner Felicia Harris and Mayor Cornell Harvey were unavailable for comment.
City editor Tyler H. Jones contributed to this report.