For a place as allegedly cosmopolitan as the District of Columbia, residents and visitors here have long had to endure one arena of low-grade moralizing: The District has long prohibited the sale of liquor for off-premises consumption on Sundays.
With that “blue law,” the District joins a dwindling number of states — which currently include
Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas — in banning package liquor sales on the Lord’s Day.
That could soon end.
D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said today he is likely to recommend allowing Sunday sales for holders of Class A (liquor store) licenses as part of the city budget. The additional $710,000 in sales tax revenue that would be generated by dropping the restriction would go some way toward the $3.2 million Graham needs to find to kill Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s proposal to extend bar hours as late as 4 a.m.
Holders of Class B licenses — beer-and-wine-only outlets, like grocery stores — can already peddle their intoxicating wares on Sundays. And bars and restaurants that sell alcohol for on-premises consumption long have been able to sell away.
So why has the package liquor ban stood for so long?
For one, residents in some neighborhoods have long resisted any move that could increase loitering and bad behavior outside corner liquor stores. Graham said members of an alcohol task force from Ward 7 have been particularly outspoken in opposition to expanded package sales.
For another, liquor laws like this typically get loosened when the government really needs the money. The amount of tax dollars at stake for Sunday liquor sales is not a whole lot in the grand scheme of municipal budgeting.
But this year, Graham says, every penny counts.
He’s already on the cusp of convincing city finance officials to scale back the $3.2 million extended-bar-hours figure to account for the fact that 20 percent of bars have “voluntary agreements” with neighborhood residents that would preclude them from extending their hours. Add in the $710,000 from Sunday sales, and Graham thinks he make up the difference elsewhere.
”I’m looking for money,” he said. “If I get that and I get the 20 percent reduction, I’m down to $1.5 million.”
UPDATE, 11:45 A.M.: A correction courtesy of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States: Arkansas and Georgia recently ended their Sunday sales bans — Arkansas in 2009, Georgia last year.