OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Voters in seven Oklahoma counties will decide next year whether to allow liquor stores to open on Sundays, in a continued push to expand the state's market for booze.
The measure will appear on ballots March 3, or "Super Tuesday" — the day for presidential primary votes in Oklahoma and other states.
Voters in 2016 approved changes in statewide liquor laws to allow strong beer and wine to be sold in grocery and convenience stores on Sundays, and to bring Oklahoma in line with other states' laws on alcohol.
But those changes did not address the ban on liquor stores opening on Sundays.
In 2017, then-Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill allowing retail package liquor stores to sell alcohol on Sunday on a county-option basis.
Oklahoma County commissioners voted 2-1 last Wednesday and met the deadline for the March 3 ballot. Commissioners in Cleveland, Creek, Kingfisher, Muskogee, Tulsa, and Washington counties had already scheduled March 3 votes on the question, Oklahoma Election Board spokeswoman Misha Mohr said.
Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert said she sponsored the proposal because it would support small, local businesses.
"When I learned that Walmart, Target, Homeland stores were selling beer and wine on Sundays, and liquor stores were not allowed to, I felt that was not very business friendly," Blumert said, echoing concerns raised by liquor store owners before the 2016 vote.
Blumert said she wanted to meet the deadline for the March 3 ballot because of the expected large turnout for the presidential primary and to save the county money by having the vote on the day of an already scheduled election, rather than incur the costs of a special election.
Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan opposed Blumert's proposal. He did not return phone calls for comment but said in a letter to The Oklahoman published Dec. 15 that he is concerned about making "addictive chemicals" more available to the public.
"Oklahoma recently successfully sued large drug makers for their role in causing opioid addiction. At the same time, we have been consistently pushing the availability of alcohol and (medical) marijuana, both of which have addictive potential, and the first of which is by far the most widely abused and harmful addictive chemical in our society," Maughan wrote.
The 2016 liquor law changes — which updated some regulations that dated back to Prohibition — were hailed by the beer industry but challenged, unsuccessfully, by the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma.
Andrew Gray, owner of Eddie's Liquor in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, said being open on Sundays would make his business more competitive.
"Hopefully it'll give us a little bit of a boost," Gray said.
Brien Mikell, a customer at Eddie's Liquor, said the decision on whether to open on Sunday's should be left to the business owner.
"I'm all for it," Mikell said. "Who am I to say? If you're a business and want to be open (on Sunday) you should have that right."
Neighboring Arkansas is following a similar path to Oklahoma. There, 14 cities allow off-site alcohol sales on Sunday through the adoption of local city ordinances. Communities allowing Sunday sales through local action has been an option for decades although it is now drawing increased interest, according to the state Department of Finance and Administration.
Other restrictions on alcohol in Arkansas have recently loosened, including a law enacted this year that lets cities allow on-street drinking in special entertainment districts.