By Jeff Amy/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Mississippi House members want some cities in dry counties to be able to vote on allowing alcohol sales.
House members voted 67-52 Wednesday for Senate Bill 2497, which now returns to the Senate for more work.
As changed by the House, the bill would allow cities with 5,000 or more people in dry counties, as well all county seats in dry counties, to hold elections on the sale of beer, wine and liquor.
The Senate bill originally set the population at 6,000 or more.
Of Mississippi’s 82 counties, 27 are entirely dry and 10 more are partially dry, according to the state Department of Revenue.
Elections to allow alcohol, or to revert to dry status, would be called when 20 percent of a city’s voters present a petition.
The bill would allow, but not require, cities to limit sales to bars and restaurants, preventing liquor stores.
Rep. Hank Zuber, R-Ocean Springs, said that the bill was meant to end the piecemeal approach to allowing exceptions to dry counties in recent years. For example, earlier in this session, the House passed a bill that would have allowed alcohol sales in the city of Brandon under certain conditions. At that time, leaders promised to bring forward a general bill to allow a uniform process for cities to vote themselves wet.
“We’re trying not to just come up with a hodgepodge plan concerning alcohol,” Zuber said.
House members also urged that leaders, during conference negotiations with senators, try to work in a provision allowing a tasting room at the Cathead Vodka distillery in Madison County. Other pending legislation would allow free samples at beer breweries in the state.