City alcohol bills crash on final night

Published 7:44am Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The final day of the 2013 regular session of the Alabama Legislature Monday was also last call for Wetumpka’s attempt to schedule a vote on whether to loosen the city’s restriction on alcohol sales.
Neither of the two local bills submitted by the city of Wetumpka — to permit a referendum on draft beer and Sunday on-premises alcohol sales — was able to navigate the last-minute logjam, not to mention the dueling personalities involved.
State Rep. Barry Mask, the sponsor of the bills and Wetumpka’s only resident in the Legislature, blamed the competing interests of the six-member county delegation on the bills’ failure
“We’ve got six legislative seats and five of them don’t live here — well, (state Sen.) Bryan (Taylor) does barely,” Mask said. “Other influences have dominion over us.”
Taylor lives in Prattville, but on this side of the county line.
Local bills must be signed off on by each senator and representative who represents county voters, even if the bill concerns just one specific municipality.
The three House members, Mask, East Montgomery’s Greg Wren and Prattville’s Paul Beckman, signed off on the bills, which passed the House unanimously on April 16.
But no action was taken in the Senate, which Taylor said was because no one told the Senate delegation it was there. Brewbaker said last week that he had signed off on it, and he thought Sylacauga Sen. Jerry Fielding had as well (Fielding did not respond to a call for comment).
Then Monday, as the session’s final day waned, State Sen. Bryan Taylor amended both bills, specifying the changes to local alcohol restrictions could not apply to the Poarch Creek Indian casino quickly rising to dominate Wetumpka’s skyline.
“We shouldn’t be doing favors for, or giving special advantages to, the PCI while they refuse to pay their fair share of state and local taxes,” Taylor said, echoing his ongoing fight with PCI in Atmore, where he represents the Escambia County Commission in his private legal practice.
“The amendment ensures that PCI restaurants … don’t get to operate at a competitive tax advantage over local Wetumpka restaurants that serve draft beer.”
The Sunday sales bill, HB475, “was never taken out of the basket,” ac­cording to State Sen. Quentin Ross (D-Montgomery), who Taylor told The ­Herald “just objects to the Sunday sales bill coming up,” an accusation seconded by Mask.
Ross said Wednesday he “adamantly disagrees with that assessment.” Taylor “put that bill in jeopardy with the amendment,” Ross said.
But since the draft beer bill (HB474) had already passed the House, the amended bill’s passage in the Senate did not make it law. Mask called the move “childish and silly.”
“This was not the venue for you to be trying to push forward your personal philosophy,” Mask said. “There are a lot of people who don’t care for gambling, but it is what it is and you move on.”
At 8:45 p.m. Monday, Mask said the House had passed the bill, but that it would have to go to conference committee to reconcile the differences. That conference committee never happened, and the draft beer also died in legislative limbo.
Taylor complained that no Wetumpka official ever contacted him about HB474 or 475 and also noted the bills were submitted too late in the process to stand much of a chance.
He said local officials in the other counties in his sprawling district — also including Pike, Crenshaw and Butler counties — “communicated early with me so that we had an opportunity to resolve any differences up front.”
Taylor said he’s “being 100 percent consistent — not picking winners and losers.”
Mask, who recently accepted a job as CEO of the Alabama Association of Realtors, said moments like these are why he wished the county commission and municipalities had signed onto a lawsuit challenging the reapportionment plan passed in the 2012 session.
Though the plan reduced the number of lawmakers representing Elmore County to five, Mask complained it still gave surrounding cities too much say in county issues.
“It’s frustrating, but the people are going to have to realize that other areas have dominion over us,” Mask said. “So, we’ll be in this same plight for 10 more years.”
Taylor decried the influence of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
“At this point in time it is apparent that some have decided it’s better for this bill to die, to deprive Wetumpka restaurants of the opportunity to offer draft beer, and to deprive the people of the right to vote on it, if PCI can’t have it too,” Taylor said in an email Wednesday.
“PCI wants it both ways, they want to be excluded from Alabama laws they don’t like, such as tax laws, but they demand to be included in the laws they do like, such as draft beer. I’m sick of it and it’s time for somebody to stand up to them.”
And Wetumpka residents, who voiced strong support for the two bills to let them vote on the alcohol issues, are left out in the cold.
“Why do we have a Legislature if it isn’t going to vote on a bill before it,” said Wetumpka Herald Facebook user Christine Turner. “They get paid for four months of work what the average Alabamian makes in a year.”

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