Serving alcohol on Christmas Day in Arkansas was voted down in committee on Wednesday (Feb. 3), but allowing alcohol deliveries and creating entertainment districts in dry counties passed.
HB 1341 would have allowed restaurants and bars to serve alcoholic beverages on Christmas Day. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Karilyn Brown, R-Sherwood, argued it would allow for business owners to meet customer demand.
A similar argument was made by Gretchen Hall, CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“When we have guests staying in hotels that already have an on-premise permit alcohol to sell alcohol and they have to tell a guest that they cannot serve them on Christmas with their dinner or their brunch, that creates customer confusion and really dissatisfaction,” said Hall.
One person spoke against the bill, Toni Rhodes – a member of the Christian group, An American Speaks – who told committee members, “My goodness, can we not give Jesus one day out of the year and not serve alcohol?”
The bill failed on a voice-vote. Currently, Arkansans cannot buy alcohol at liquor stores on Christmas Day either.
HB 1228, which would allow for the creation of entertainment districts in dry counties, passed.
Rep. Lee Johnson, R-Greenwood, said the intention of the bill is to allow private clubs, or restaurants, to petition their local governments for the option of selling alcohol outside as part of an entertainment district.
Johnson pointed to the 2019 session when lawmakers passed a measure allowing this provision in wet counties. He also stressed that his bill would not take away local control and does not allow for new alcohol sales.
Larry Page, representing the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, told lawmakers there is a reason for dry counties – residents in those counties want it that way.
“It is going to further diminish local control,” said Page. “We pay so much lip service to local control, yet time and time again we see mandates handed down from central government whether it be from Washington to the states or from Little Rock to local people.”
The bill passed on a voice-vote.
SB 32, which would allow for the delivery of alcohol in wet counties, passed on a voice vote.
The committee passed an amendment made by House co-sponsor Rep. Karilyn Brown to include craft breweries and microbreweries. Initially, the bill stated just retail liquor stores.
“Only an employee of the company who is 21 years of age or older is allowed to make the delivery. The order is taken over the phone and information is confirmed over the phone and then when that delivery is made it is reconfirmed,” said Brown.
Currently, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s public health emergency allows for the delivery of alcohol.
Prior to its passage in the Senate City, County & Local Affairs Committee, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Director Doralee Chandler, testified that the agency had not recorded any violations during the time this practice has been allowed due to the pandemic.
Both HB 1228 and SB 32 are headed to the House Chamber for a full vote.
Editor’s note: Marine Glisovic is the senior political reporter for KATV.