Monroe News-Star USA TODAY NETWORK
Bonnie Bolden and Ashley Mott
Last November, the Ouachita Parish Police Jury asked the Attorney General’s Office if Sunday alcohol sales in the unincorporated parts of the parish had to go to the public for a vote.
This week, they got an answer.
In an opinion dated Sept. 24, the Attorney General’s Office stated that OPPJ can set Sunday alcohol sales by ordinance, without voter approval at the polls. Additionally, that ordinance does not have to be applied to all unincorporated parts of the parish.
The issue most recently came up when Calhoun business owner Laddie Aulakh addressed the police jurors and said the lack of Sunday sales was losing some business for his grocery store.
OPPJ requested the AG opinion because of conflicting state and local laws and state supreme court rulings tied to liquor sales.
Sunday sales background
Before 1986, blue laws prohibited the Sunday sale of most goods until a legislative statute adopted that year weakened the restrictions. The statute said parishes and municipalities could prohibit the opening of certain businesses or the sale of certain stock but only if approved by the voters in an election.
In the mid-1990s, a state court ruled that alcohol would be considered merchandise in a store and an election would be necessary to prohibit Sunday sales.
An election followed on Nov. 18, 1995, and the voters of Ouachita Parish supported restricting Sunday sales, 14,023 for to 10,361 against.
The wording of the local proposition was very specific. Instead of giving the police jury the power to regulate Sunday sales, it instructed the jury to prohibit the sale with the exception of restaurant licenses.
The ordinance states “Shall the Parish of Ouachita, state of Louisiana, adopt an ordinance prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages in the unincorporated areas of Ouachita Parish on Sunday, except for those establishments which possess a Class R license…”
A later Supreme Court decision, Silver Dollar LiquorInc. vs. Red River Parish Police Jury, said specific state laws governing alcohol already existed in Title 26. Under Title 26, parishes can regulate alcohol without an election.
The current opinion
In the opinion issued this week the AG’s Office cites the Silver Dollar case as the ruling precedent.
The opinion notes that the office has recalled several of its previously rendered opinions, including one that was factually the same as the one OPPJ attorney Jay Mitchell submitted.
Changes to Sunday liquor sales would be considered new regulation.
Mitchell also asked if a change to Sunday liquor sales would have to apply to all the unincorporated portions of the parish. The AG’s Office could not find statutory or case law that implied a change would have to affect all areas of the parish.
Jack Clampit, District B, said he’d want to let residents in the same zone as the business vote on the issue. He wasn’t sure if it would be by ward or district line.
“It’s their choice to make. Not mine,” he said Monday night.
On Tuesday, Clampit said state law doesn’t allow issues to be put on the ballot as a survey to voters. He’d like it to go to a vote from the public, but that’s not feasible.
He and Robinson are asking for input on their Facebook pages to gauge interest in Sunday alcohol sales.
Clampit said a proposed ordinance will go on the police jury agenda for the Oct. 1 meeting, but they haven’t determined if the proposal will be for part or all of the unincorporated areas of the parish.