By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — The Kentucky General Assembly appears poised to lift the state’s Election Day booze-buying ban, which would leave South Carolina as the only state that still enforces the Prohibition-era rule.
A state House committee approved a bill Wednesday that would lift the ban on the sales of alcoholic beverages in wet areas on election days in Kentucky. Senate Bill 13, sponsored by Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, now goes to the full House for consideration.
After no member of the House Licensing and Occupations Committee voted against the proposal, Schickel said he is “real optimistic” about its chances in the House.
“I’ve talked to leadership in the House and I think they are committed to getting it passed.”
Schickel, who is chairman of the Senate Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee, said he also is “committed to getting passed in the Senate the alcohol beverage task force report.” He was referring to House Bill 300, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, that contains the recommendations of Gov. Steve Beshear’s alcohol regulations task force.
HB 300 is designed to eliminate duplicative, confusing and unnecessary liquor licensing laws and regulations.
Schickel said allowing alcohol sales on election days would be a financial boon to businesses that depend on alcohol sales and to tourist destinations along Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.
The bill affects only wet areas of the state. It would allow each community to decide whether they want to ban alcohol sales on election day.
Kentucky’s ban is a relic of the Prohibition era when saloons sometimes served as polling stations. The only states that still cling to statewide election day sales bans of alcohol at restaurants, bars and package stores are Kentucky and South Carolina.
Alaska and Massachusetts also have a general ban on election day alcohol sales, but local governments can exempt their communities from the ban.
The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States estimated last year that Kentucky’s treasury loses more than $625,000 a year in sales tax revenue because of the ban. It estimated that Kentucky retail stores, bars and restaurants lost more than $4.5 million in revenue each year.
The Kentucky League on Alcohol and Gambling Problems is opposed to the bill, said executive director Don Cole. He said his group has a 30-member board that represents numerous churches across the state.
Cole, a retired Baptist minister in Webster County, said in a telephone interview that the bill “will create more problems than it solves.”
He said poll workers are not trained to handle alcoholics and voters want to feel safe when they go to the polls.
He also noted that alcohol frequently was distributed to buy votes on election days before the ban was instituted.
Schickel, a retired U.S. marshal, said he has never heard of a report that an inebriated person was at a voting booth.