By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Municipalities with populations of at least 5,000 people will be able to vote on whether to legalize liquor inside city limits without other residents of the county having a vote.
Gov. Phil Bryant signed the legislation into law late Monday afternoon.
The old law required liquor votes to be countywide even though liquor can be sold only within municipal boundaries.
There have been instances where a majority of city dwellers favored the legalization of alcohol, but it was blocked by the votes of county residents outside the city.
The bill Bryant signed into law also would allow liquor votes minus county input in any municipality that is a county seat – such as Ashland in Benton County and Pittsboro in Calhoun County – both of which have fewer than 1,000 residents.
But in a message to the Legislature, Bryant said he signed the bill with assurances from Lt. Gov Tate Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn “that concerns regarding county seats that do not meet the 5,000-person threshold will be addressed in the 2013 Legislative session.”
The Republican governor said to allow small county seats to sell liquor “may cause significant law enforcement challenges and administrative burdens.”
Bryant said he signed the proposal because it was an issue of local autonomy and there was a need to end the current “patchwork” system where municipalities in dry counties lobby the Legislature to allow them to vote on liquor minus the input of county residents.
Under the new law, if voters in a municipality approve the sale of liquor, it would be up to the town’s governing board to set guidelines. The board could restrict the sale of liquor and wine to restaurants or could allow it to be sold in package stores.
Cities in Northeast Mississippi such as Corinth, New Albany, Pontotoc and Booneville could be impacted by the change in law.