It’s illegal to sell alcohol in Payne County restaurants and bars on only five days a year: Memorial Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
The restriction is one of the few remaining vestiges of an earlier era and Payne County voters are about to get the chance to change that.
The voters have already shown a willingness to change Payne County’s liquor laws. In 2012, they gave restaurants and bars the ability to sell alcohol on Sunday.
Visit Stillwater President/CEO and Stan Clark Companies President John Killam appeared before the Payne County Board of Commissioners on Monday to ask them to call for an election and let the voters decide whether to remove the ban.
The ban really doesn’t make sense because customers can walk into stores and buy alcohol on those same days, Killam said. Not being able to sell strong beer and mixed drinks leaves companies like his at a competitive disadvantage, particularly since liquor laws changed and establishments don’t sell 3.2 beer anymore.
Three of the five holidays when alcohol sales are prohibited are major tourism holidays, Morrison told the commissioners. It can hinder their efforts to book meetings, conventions and events.
“In my mind it’s an economic development issue, not an alcohol issue,” she said.
Payne County is out of step with the majority of the counties in the state in this matter, according to Morrison’s report. Out of 77 counties, only 17 restrict alcohol sales on Sunday and only 19 restrict alcohol sales on certain holidays.
District 1 Commissioner Zach Cavett said he personally opposes making alcohol more available but the commission ultimately approved, in a 2-1 vote, a request to prepare a resolution scheduling the election. The could have refused and voters would have had to circulate an initiative petition.
District 2 Commissioner Chris Reding said he felt it was really a matter of letting the voters decide. It makes sense to save everyone the trouble considering the overwhelming support the initiative petition for medical marijuana got, he said.
The earliest the question can be placed on the ballot is during the March 3 Presidential Preferential Primary, attorney Lowell Barto told the commissioners. They’ll have to approve the election resolution by Dec. 18 to get the question on that ballot.
If voters remove the holiday sales restrictions for restaurants and bars, there will be only one more restriction left on the county’s books that keeps all vendors from being on a level playing field when it comes to alcohol sales.
Liquor stores are not currently allowed to open on Sunday, even though restaurants, bars, grocery stores and convenience stores can sell alcohol that day.
The 2017 passage of SB211 gave counties the ability to call for elections to let voters decide if that should be the case but the Payne County Commission has not scheduled such an election.
In 2017, Cavett told the News Press he did not support that measure either, saying he believes the increased costs of jailing people because of alcohol consumption would exceed the tax revenue generated.
Reding said he had no problem putting it on an agenda if people wanted it.