State lawmakers today gave final passage to legislation intended to allow more than 30 cities and towns in dry counties to continue to sell alcoholic beverages.
Gov. Robert Bentley signed the bills into law on Thursday, according to his press office.
The affected communities approved referendums allowing alcohol sales, but the state Supreme Court on Feb. 27 ruled the law authorizing those ballot measures was unconstitutional.
A bill to say the referendums were valid and a second bill to fix the disputed law passed the Senate today before going to the governor.
Rep. Jim Martin, R-Clanton, sponsor of the bills, said Jemison and Thorsby in his district are two of the affected towns. They are in Chilton County, which is dry, but voted to approve alcohol sales.
“The most important thing is the revenue that these small towns depend on,” Martin said.
Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, handled the bills in the Senate.
The state Supreme Court had ruled that the law authorizing the referendums was unconstitutional because it excluded municipalities in Blount, Clay and Randolph counties.
The court ruled exclusion of the three counties violated the Equal Protection Clause.
The case stemmed from a move by the Legislature six years ago to give smaller towns in dry counties a chance to allow alcohol sales.
Lawmakers approved a bill to allow towns and cities with 1,000 to 7,000 people to hold votes on whether to allow alcohol sales within their borders.
That amended a 1984 law that had allowed such votes in cities of 7,000 or more in dry counties.
The Legislature excluded cities in Blount, Clay and Randolph counties from that 2009 law. Randolph County has since voted to go wet.
In 2012, Blount County voters rejected a wet referendum but voters in Oneonta supported it, and the city prepared to have its own referendum despite the exclusion in the 2009 law.
A resident filed a lawsuit to block the city from spending money on the election.
The city filed a counterclaim and asked the law to be declared unconstitutional.
In November 2013, Blount County Circuit Judge Steven King struck down the part of the 2009 law that exempted the three counties, saying that the exemptions violated equal protections under the state and U.S. constitutions.
Oneonta and several other Blount County municipalities then held referendums and voted to go wet.
Two Blount County pastors appealed King’s ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Eric Johnston, attorney for the pastors, told the justices that the entire law, not just the exemption of the three counties, should be struck down.
That’s what the court did in February, prompting the need for the Legislature to rewrite the law.
Johnston said today that it appears the Legislature has fixed the law.
He said the state Supreme Court ruling set a precedent that judges can’t fix some unconstitutional laws passed by the Legislature by striking out only the offending part of the law.
The Supreme Court opinion in the case says that the court can strike specific portions of laws in some cases, but not in a case such as the 2009 law, when the Legislature’s clear intent was to treat residents of three counties differently.
As of November, 35 cities with populations from 1,000 to 7,000 had voted to go wet under the 2009 law, according to a lawyer for the city of Oneonta.
Information provided by al.com