By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ALBANY – A citizens group in New Albany is taking advantage of a new law in an effort to hold elections on whether to legalize wine and liquor inside city limits.
“New Albany Spirit” is distributing petition forms, both at several locations in New Albany and at www.newalbanyspirit.com, that ask for a vote on the issue.
“New Albany Spirit is a group of concerned citizens who believe the citizens of New Albany deserve the right to vote FOR or AGAINST the sale of alcohol within the city limits of New Albany,” the group’s website states. “We believe in the American principle of ‘Democracy’ or ‘Government by the people.’ We believe that our citizens should determine the rules by which we live. Others, who do not live in New Albany, should not place restrictions on how our citizens live.”
Union County voted against legalizing liquor in 2008 and again early this year – the second time by a wider margin than the first.
Mississippi counties are automatically “dry” for liquor and wine unless a majority of voters approve legalization of liquor and wine. Liquor and wine elections have been restricted to countywide votes unless a bill written with a specific town in mind made an exception or if a specific place was granted resort status.
That changed this year. Senate Bill 2497 passed by the 2012 Legislature now allows any county seat or city of more than 5,000 people to hold a municipal election to decide alcohol legalization if its county has previously voted on and rejected it. Voters in Corinth held such an election on Dec. 11 and approved legalization by a large margin. Ashland held a vote Dec. 18 and it did not pass.
“We think the Mississippi Legislature made the right decision when they enabled city residents to decide how they want to live, independent of people who do not live in that city,” said Mary Jennifer Russell, one of New Albany Spirit’s leaders.
One difference in a municipal-only liquor election is that if voters approve liquor sales, city officials can choose to limit sales to on-premises retailers (restaurants) only, without making provision for package stores and by-the-bottle sales.
Mississippi law already allowed cities to hold municipal-only elections to legalize beer and light wine. New Albany voters approved legalization of beer and light wine in January 2010.