Blue-law change outlook not good
Aug 5, 2001
Cullman Mayor Don Green says he is in favor of Cullmans blue law, which restricts the hours certain businesses can be open on Sunday, but agrees the present law isnt fair.
Councilman Wayne Walker wants Cullman Countys legislative delegation to step in and push for repeal of the blue law.
Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, contends the people of Cullman County voted in the blue law and to make a change now without allowing the people to vote wouldnt be proper.
It all means the chances of rescinding the Sunday closing laws in Cullman dont look very promising, despite the City Councils willingness to get involved.
The Cullman City Council voted last week to request that the citys legislative delegation do everything in its power to repeal the citys blue law, which limits the hours a store can open on Sunday. The councilmen who want it repealed want the legislators to do it through a new law.
The problem with that request is that the countys legislators are all on record in support of the law. Little said the only way he would consider changing the current law would be by a vote of the people, and even that may have a hard time getting through the Legislature.
The current law was voted on in 1984 and I dont have a problem with the people voting on it again, but Im not in favor of pushing through legislation calling for a special election to consider it, Little said. Even a simple referendum on the law wold have to be cleared through the Legislature and earliest time a vote could be scheduled would be during next years primary election in June or the general election in November 2002.
Little says he feels the present system has worked well over the years.
I do think there may be issues of lost revenue as a result of the blue law, but its an issue the people should decide, Little said. Its true that under the current law certain businesses can remain open on Sunday while others cannot and I understand how our free enterprise system is supposed to work. There are those who argue that if they want to open their business on Sunday they should have that opportunity and I understand their point.
State Reps. Neal Morrison and Jeremy Oden have similar views, indicating an unwillingness to sponsor legislation next year to allow a special election. All three also will be up for re-election in 2002.
Little said he would never support a law that didnt have a provision to allow employees to attend church on Sunday with fear of losing their jobs.
So-called blue laws were common throughout Alabama in the 1970s and 1980s, until court challenges, changing attitudes and complaints from consumers wiped most from the books.
In Cullman most stores can open only from 1 to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
The Alabama League of Municipalities has no record of any other county still enforcing Sunday closing laws. In Moulton, businesses are asked not to open other than 1 and 6 p.m. Sunday and in Boaz there is a law on the books, but it is not enforced.
At a time when the city should be looking for ways to maximize sales tax revenues, especially in light of the councils vote to increase the citys sales tax by one-half percent effective Oct. 1, the citys blue law continues to deny us valuable tax dollars when area residents shop elsewhere on Sunday, Walker said. And if you dont believe people are leaving Cullman on Sunday to shop in Hartselle, Decatur and so on, the next time youre in one of those places on a Sunday, ride through the parking lot of the Wal-Mart Supercenter and count the license plates with the number 25 on them.
Walker estimates the city could be losing as much as $1 million to $1.5 million a year in sales taxes.
If we were able to recoup those lost revenues we might be able to repeal the new half-cent sales tax increase in eight months instead of waiting a whole year, Walker said.
Walker, who got the council to approve a resolution Monday to seek legislative support to repeal the law, agreed blue laws once served a purpose, but emphasized that such an unfair law has outlived its time. He said he works Sundays but attends church services in the evening.
I dont believe there is an employer in this town who wouldnt work with an employee to enable them to attend church on Sunday if we didnt have a blue law on the books, Walker said.
Mayor Green said he favors the law, but also feels it isnt fair for an individual to be able to stop at a 24-hour convenience store and purchase a gallon of milk on Sunday morning or Sunday night and not be able to do the same thing at a local grocery store.
Prior to 1984, the Sunday closing laws in Cullman County were even stricter than they are now. A 1984 legislative act allowing flea markets to open on Sunday in Cullman also permitted retail stores to open from 1 to 6 p.m. Voters approved the change.
Prior to that time virtually all stores were closed all day Sunday, except for the few that already were exempt such as convenience stores and service stations.
One of the stores that would definitely change its Sunday hours if the blue law were repealed is Wal-Mart.
Studies have shown we lose a good deal of Sunday business to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Hartselle, said store manager Gary Martin. Repeal of the blue law would benefit all of Cullman when you consider the number of stores which could open for business on Sundaydepartment stores, grocery stores, pharmacies and so on. Sales revenue would increase and as a result sales tax revenues would increase for the city and county at a time when it is certainly needed.
Across town, Food World Manager Robert Lindsey said hes had experience on both sides, having worked in a grocery store in the Jasper area before coming to Cullman.
I believe this is one issue the community leaders and the people of Cullman are going to have to hash out for themselves, Lindsey said. I would hope the leaders we voted into office would look at the situation and take whatever action is in the best interest of the community. Sometimes people have to take care of people and have the courage to do what they think is the right thing.
The Rev. Mac Buttram, pastor of St. Andrews United Methodist Church, likes the saying, Sometimes you need to stand and be counted even when its not the most popular thing to do.
I dont know that Im planning any Sunday sermons on this or not, but I do think things operate pretty well they way they are. I dont think anybody is suffering much by not being able to buy certain things until 1 p.m. on Sunday, Buttram said. I guess its another one of those unique things about Cullman I like and appreciate so much.
Buttram said he doesnt believe people go to Hartselle because Wal-Mart there is open on Sunday morning.
They go to get things they cant get at the Wal-Mart in Cullman, he said.
Buttram said he also doesnt believe people really need to buy groceries at 10 a.m. on Sunday instead of waiting until 1 p.m.
I think some of this is being blown way out of proportion, Buttram said. The sabbath for me is a day of rest and I believe all of us need a day. It doesnt necessarily have to be on Sunday. The emphasis is on replenishing our souls and our bodies and that can be accomplished just as well on a Saturday.