County-level liquor laws promote democracy
A new bill would allow each of the 77 counties in Oklahoma to vote on whether liquor stores will be able to open from noon to midnight on Sunday. Senate Bill 211 was put forward by Senator Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma City. This bill by Senator Bice is a continuation of previous bills that she has previously set forward to revamp Oklahoma’s alcohol laws. Each county will have the ability to either enact the bill or put it away. This bill is a continuation of the current trends on alcohol that were started by State Question 792. State Question 792 allowed full strength alcohol in grocery stores. This new bill seeks to settle the unequal balance between grocery stores and liquor stores. Because of State Question 792, grocery stores could be seen as better liquor stores in 2018 because they have the ability to be open on Sundays as well as being able to sell full strength alcohol. Bryan Kerr, president of the Oklahoma Retail Liquor Association, stated during an interview with NewsOK that this new bill “would level the playing field a little for me. It’s just another piece of making things at least a little closer to fair if and when grocery and convenience stores begin selling wine and beer.”
There is also another reason why Senate Bill 211 is county-by-county instead of the general state. There are currently 18 counties in Oklahoma that are known as dry counties. This means that restaurants and bars can only sell low point beer — between 0.5 and 3.2 ethanol per weight. Through this county-by-county bill, the people of a certain community can choose the procedures that properly fit their communities. This allows dry counties to keep their current policies in place while allowing other counties in Oklahoma to make up their own opinions on the subject. This method of voting hopefully makes the debate local rather than statewide.
Oklahoma’s current laws on alcohol are connected to its birth. When the state of Oklahoma was a mix of Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory, alcohol was not officially allowed in Indian Territory in an attempt to stem the rampant alcoholism many Native Americans experienced. This would later become a problem in 1907 when Oklahoma attempted to become a state. Congress argued that alcohol could not be brought into the former Indian territories because, according to Oklahoma historian Bob Blackburn, “they wanted to protect the Indians whose lands had been allotted in severalty, allotted on land that was individually owned. They said you’ve got to keep alcohol out.” This law and the work of prohibitionist Oklahomans eventually created a law in the Oklahoma Constitution that banned alcohol besides low point beer. Blackburn stated, “the theory is that you can’t get drunk on 3.2 beer.” In the modern era, prohibition laws like these are less widely supported and should be replaced with laws that fit the population better. Therefore, this bill allows each county to decide attributes of their own communities.
This bill promotes the process of democracy in which people get to vote with their fellow citizens over how they think their communities should be run. I personally think that liquor stores should be open on Sundays because it is fair to the liquor store owner and gives people the ability to both receive a wanted product and help out the local economy. However, regarding this bill, other people in different counties can have vastly different opinions than me and both of us can vote for what we personally believe in. The ability to state one’s opinion of issues that affect one’s livelihood and wellbeing is the essence of democracy and should be supported in potential bills like this one.