By making liquor sales earlier on Sundays, Arizona wipes out its last 'blue law' - East Valley Tribune: Business

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By making liquor sales earlier on Sundays, Arizona wipes out its last 'blue law'

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Posted: Saturday, July 31, 2010 8:00 am

The legislation's influence will likely not be felt beyond mimosas with breakfast at restaurants and an early beer at sports bars on NFL game days, causing the lawmaker behind it to suggest that "it's really not that interesting."

However, when people buy an alcoholic beverage in Arizona as early as 6 a.m. on Sunday, the action will be significant. For they will be able to do so thanks to a change that wiped the state's last blue law - a rule enforcing moral or religious standards on Sundays - off the books.

The new law, which took effect on Thursday, gives Sunday the regular daily 6 a.m. start of alcohol sales at more than 11,000 establishments in the state with active liquor licenses. The Sunday time had previously been 10 a.m.

Last call remains at 2 a.m. daily.

"I looked at the rest of the week and felt that it was inconsistent," said state Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, who first pushed for the change. "It didn't make any sense to treat Sunday differently than Saturday or Wednesday. I realize the church's perspective is that Sunday is different, but from the state of Arizona's perspective, it shouldn't be any different."

Heinz's bill did not make it through the House. Republican Frank Antenori of Tucson, however, attached it to a Senate bill designed to keep alive the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, which regulates alcohol sales in the state.

Gov. Jan Brewer expressed opposition, but signed the bill in May.

Heinz said an analysis by legislative budget staff concluded that the state will receive about $450,000 a year in tax revenue from the change.

"That sealed the deal," Heinz said.

Steve Chuchi, president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association, said that establishments welcome the change, but he feels the biggest winners are consumers.

"Do we think this is going to open the floodgates to patrons coming in on Sundays? No, of course not," Chuchi said. "I don't think this is something that will bring us out of the bad economy. The industry as a whole is embracing this opportunity, but I don't think you're going to see anything dramatic in terms of an effect on a restaurant's bottom line."

Blue laws remain in several states, although some rules are unenforced. Other such laws prohibit car sales, hunting or sporting events being staged on Sundays.

Are blue laws antiquated?

Rev. Jeri Wikerson, associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Mesa, said sabbath influence must come primarily from people of faith. She cited such businesses as Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby, which are closed on Sundays because of their owners' religious convictions.

"There is the question in society about workers being given a day of respite, where they should not work, but that comes to a great sacrifice to our economic system," Wilkerson said. "My opinion, and the opinion of other pastors these days, is that the sabbath does not have to be on a Sunday. It could be on another day."

Heinz said that some of his colleagues believe that the law change does not go far enough.

"The only problem they had with the bill is that there were still some restrictions on hours," Heinz said. "That's a very pure Libertarian point of view, really."

"If a business can make a profit and not break any laws by selling tequila shots at 3:47 a.m. on Saturday, they should have the freedom to make that business model work. And under the (current) laws, they can't do that."

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