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Blue Laws restricting Sunday booze may soon be lifted in Pinellas

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Super Bowl Sunday was this past weekend, one of the booziest of all Sundays. Yet, people hosting parties in Pinellas County couldn’t throw the beer in their grocery carts any earlier than 11 a.m.

And all those tourists flooding the county’s beaches during the winter months (or any month, for that matter) can’t hit the Bloody Mary bar before 11 either.

Why? Because Pinellas County abides by a set of regulations — known as Blue Laws — that allow counties to prohibit alcohol sales before a certain time on Sundays. The laws were originally aimed at prohibiting certain actions for religious reasons — Sunday being the holy day and all.

But they could go away.

“I don’t understand what the purpose is at this point,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. “It just seems like it might be time to take that one off the books.”

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is leading a charge among Pinellas County mayors to make that happen. According to his spokesman, Kriseman is in the process of gather support among the Council of Mayors to ask the Pinellas County Commission to ax the restriction.

According to Commission Chairman Charlie Justice, no one has brought it up yet. But it seems likely to come if Kriseman has anything to do with it and it doesn’t seem likely to get much pushback.

“I don’t hear any arguments against that,” Welch said.

Justice agreed it didn’t seem like too contentious of an issue. However, Welch did say he’d want to hear from all of the county’s law enforcement leaders before making a final decision. That includes Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway and Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter.

In order to get the ball rolling, an item would have to be scheduled with the county commission. That could happen in any number of ways. The county administrator could ask that the item be scheduled for a vote. Kriseman could come to the commission and any commissioner could request an item be scheduled or Justice could just put it on the agenda himself.

From there it would follow the same regulatory process as any other ordinance or ordinance change. The public would have a chance to weigh in and votes would be taken.

“If the mayor’s council passed unanimous resolution saying we need to do something countywide, that’s something we would take seriously,” Justice said.

Both he and Welch said if an ordinance does come up to repeal the pre-11 a.m. Sunday moratorium on booze it would include an opt-out provision for cities just in case there was any objection.

In 2016, though, Welch isn’t convinced there would be any pushback.

“The last time we changed the ordinance there was no outcry against it,” Welch said.

In 2003 the county changed the time people in Pinellas County could start imbibing from 1 p.m. to 11 a.m.

Lifting the county’s Blue Laws could also be a boost for tourism. One of the reasons Kriseman is pushing it is because brunch-going tourists don’t always understand why they can’t have a mimosa at 10:30.

In a recent WTSP report on the issue, a Cassis manager told reporters there were some questioning customers.

Blue Laws in some areas across the nation include more than just moratoriums or restrictions on Sunday alcohol sales; they can also apply to retail stores.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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