It’s at least conceivable a vast majority of the 13-member state Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee – all but two, to be exact – had legitimate reasons for missing a Wednesday meeting at which they’d been scheduled to vote on sending a Sunday alcohol sales bill to the Senate floor.

It’s also conceivable, however, that the committee of nine Republicans and four Democrats simply is stalling a bill that could become politically problematic for them and their General Assembly colleagues in the upcoming 2010 elections.

It wouldn’t be the first time the bill has been bottled up, so to speak. It has failed to get action in the previous two General Assembly sessions.

Senate Bill 16, sponsored by Sen. Seth Harp, R-Midland, isn’t a particularly complex piece of legislation. It proposes to allow residents of cities and counties across the state the opportunity to decide whether they want to be able to buy alcohol in retail stores after noon on Sundays, if their local government is willing to call for a referendum on those sales.

During recent legislative sessions, the bill has found legislators waffling among teetotaling conservatives who don’t want alcohol available in stores on the Christian holy day, retailers who say they are losing out on potential sales, and the large number of Georgians who simply want a voice in the matter. This year, discussion of the bill is attenuated by the ongoing economic downturn, which has – or should have – legislators scrambling to find any new streams of tax revenue such as Sunday alcohol sales might bring.

Here, briefly, are how the numbers in favor of Sunday store sales of alcohol break down:

  • Earlier this month, an official with Publix, one of Georgia’s largest supermarket chains, told The Associated Press the sale of beer and wine at grocery stores on Sundays would result in $1.4 million in extra excise taxes and at least $3.3 million in new sales tax revenue.
  • A widely referenced InsiderAdvantage poll undertaken when the issue first surfaced in the General Assembly found 58 percent of Georgians wanted an opportunity to cast a ballot on the issue, a number that rose to 66 percent when respondents were told that only two other states – Connecticut and Indiana – don’t allow Sunday store sales of alcohol.

On the other side of the issue, opponents of Sunday store sales relied last year on a widely debunked study done in New Mexico – where voters approved Sunday alcohol sales in 1995 – that purported to show a subsequent increase in alcohol-related traffic accidents and fatalities. This year, opponents opted for an even less convincing approach, bringing a few dozen teenagers into a recent Senate hearing on the bill to make the dubious argument that allowing Sunday store sales would somehow make it easier for young people to illegally buy alcohol, by extending the time it would be available to them.