No Referendum - The Cities Are Covered by the County's Vote

Without a vote Local bars can sell alcohol on Sunday


Clinton citizens will not vote on the issue of Sunday alcohol sales at local bars and restaurants.

Turns out, a Laurens County-passed referendum in November covers the cities of Clinton and Laurens, and all other areas of Laurens County. A SC Department of Revenue official told the Clinton city attorney that on Friday.

Clinton City Council was ready to pass the first of two readings of an ordinance putting the issue on the ballot for March 2019. Laurens City Council already has given first reading approval to that ordinance.

“We do not need to vote,” attorney Allen Wham told the Clinton council Monday night.

Even though Laurens County voters gave majority approval to a vote for Sunday alcohol sales in the “unincorporated areas,” that approval covers all bars and restaurants operating in Laurens County, the official said. That’s under the provisions of SC Law 61-6-2010 (F).

The State Election Commission inserted the words “unincorporated areas” into the Laurens County ballot question.

Laurens County Council passed an ordinance allowing a vote on Sunday alcohol sales everywhere in the county. The Election Commission said the county could not do that, since the county does not govern the cities. Now, the Department of Revenue says the county did exactly that, despite the way the ballot question was worded.

Wham called DOR for clarification on a different issue and, instead, got the ruling that the City of Clinton was already authorized to have bars and restaurants sell and serve beer, wine and liquor on Sunday; stores can sell beer and wine on Sunday. ABC stores will not be open on Sunday; that’s governed by a different state law.

Bars, restaurants and stores that want to serve and sell alcohol have to apply for and receive 24-hour permits. Some counties generate enough sales tax to qualify for permanent Sunday sales, but Laurens County does not generate enough money to qualify. Businesses can choose to serve/sell alcohol, or not, on Sunday.

Wham said the DOR official said the agency would “ignore” wording in the referendum that was passed by a majority of Laurens County voters, saying alcohol could be served/sold only in “unincorporated areas.” Council member Ronnie Roth asked Wham if that action could withstand a legal challenge.

“With that provision in the law, it can,” Wham said. “If the city is in a county that already approved (Sunday sales), it doesn’t matter.”

The issue as it pertains to Laurens County already has been vetted by the SC DOR’s legal team, Wham said.

Since the city does not have legal standing to vote on the issue of Sunday alcohol sales, there was no need for Clinton City Council to pass an ordinance asking for a vote. The council decided to take “no vote” on the issue. That ordinance would have required two readings, a public hearing, and majority approval of the council. The ballot issue, if there had been one, would have faced voters in the next Municipal Election on March 5, 2019.

It was not immediately known when the first day of Sunday alcohol sales will be in Clinton, Laurens and the rest of Laurens County.


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