Just like that, Dade voters will be allowed to vote on Sunday sales of alcohol.
After an epic resistance to any relaxation of its blue laws, even after Dade voted overwhelmingly in 2016 in favor of allowing liquor by the drink-- "We have to represent the ones who voted no," explained District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff in 2017--the Dade County Commission at its regular February meeting on Thursday night accepted without a peep a proposal to allow citizens to vote again on Sunday sales.
There was barely any discussion at all before District 2 Commissioner Phillip's Hartline's two proposed resolutions--one concerning package sales on Sunday, the other drinks in restaurants--were placed on the consent agenda for the Feb. 6 meeting. The referendum questions will be on the general primary ballot on May 19.
The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, or so called beer board, had been confused, as they considered the resolutions earlier in the week, about the timing and legal nature of the ballot questions they proposed: Could the commissioner really get a legally binding referendum question on the ballot in three months' time, or were these not just "straw poll" questions, meant to gauge public opinion but not legally binding?
But County Attorney Robin Rogers, questioned after the meeting, said yes, this will be a binding referendum. He said in the case of a yes vote to Sunday sales, the county's liquor ordinance might need to be revised--he recalled the language referring consistently to "Monday through Saturday"--but said he didn't believe liquor license holders would have to apply for a new one.
The referendum questions both ask "whether or not the county governing authority shall be authorized to issue licenses for Sunday sales." Rogers told the commission this language was mandated by statute. But Commissioner Goff after the 2016 referendum, which had similar language, pointed out that all the voters had voted for was giving the commission authority to issue licenses. "That don't mean we ever, if I understand it right, have to issue a license," he said in December 2016. Commissioner Hartline ran for, and won, the District 2 seat in 2018 against a 16-year incumbent partly on the platform of carrying out the voters' will on the liquor question.
The beer board had in the fall accepted a previous proposal by Hartline to amend the liquor ordinance to allow hard liquor to be sold in the same geographical areas as beer and wine, but the county commission at its November seemed inclined to shoot that down. It said it would take the matter back up after soliciting comment from the public. But whether or not the public has ever commented, the commission has not taken the matter back up in the three months since then. At their own meeting on Feb. 4, beer board members gave their blessing to the Sunday sales referendum with the caveat that the commission might well put the kibosh on that decision, too.
But the commission did no such thing, and the upshot is that Dade voters will once again have the opportunity to weigh in on the matter of adult beverages come May. Whether the commission will once again, in the case of a yes vote, take the opportunity to thwart the voters' intent with ordinance restrictions, clauses and fees is a matter that remains to be seen.