COLUMBIA -South Carolinians should be able to buy liquor on Election Day, state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said Wednesday as a House subcommittee advanced a bill that would address the issue.
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The House has passed versions of the bill several times before, Rutherford said in an interview, but it has been bogged down in the Senate in past years by other issues. One House member said that the law dates back to when saloons were used as polling places.
Rutherford, who sponsored the bill, said that every other state has repealed the law. It's an antiquated tradition that needs to be taken off the books, he said. Rutherford said few have raised concerns with doing away with the Election Day prohibition.
"The only concern is they have to be closed on Election Day, and that's just stupid," Rutherford said.
Liquor stores in South Carolina lose an estimated $1.1 million in revenue, meaning the state loses around $105,000 in sales tax collections, said Ben Jenkins, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade association.
Since 2008, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, Utah, Idaho and Delaware have repealed the Election Day ban, Jenkins said.
The proposed bill also strips a clause that allows the state's governor to close liquor stores for reasons of "morals and decorum," said Rep. Dan Hamilton, R-Greenville, who opposes Rutherford's measure. He said he could imagine a scenario where the governor might need to close a liquor store, such as when looting occurs.
Hamilton's primary objection, however, is what he calls a trend in bills being pushed in the Legislature by large alcohol retailers at the expense of smaller stores. Doing away with the state's traditions could hurt small businesses in the long run, he said.
Last year, the S.C. Senate debated a measure that would increase from three to seven the number of retail liquor-store licenses a business could have. The measure was pushed by Total Wine and other large retailers.
Rutherford said that because the House has passed the Election Day liquor store measure before, he believes that chamber has a good chance to pass it again. He's not sure, though, whether the Senate will look differently at the matter this year.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837 or on Twitter @Jeremy_Borden.