FRANKFORT — A growing number of groups are pushing Kentucky lawmakers to lift a ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages while polls are open on Election Day.
Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, told a state legislative panel Friday that Kentucky and South Carolina are the only states that have a complete ban on sales of alcoholic beverages during polling hours on days of primary and general elections.
Simpson said the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States estimates that Kentucky's treasury loses more than $625,000 a year in sales tax revenue because of the ban.
The ban, which dates to before Prohibition, when some polling places were in saloons, deprives Kentucky retail stores, bars and restaurants of more than $4.5 million in revenue each year, said the Distilled Spirits Council in a letter to the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing and Occupations.
Simpson said his bill to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages on Election Day would not affect communities that ban the sale of alcohol at any time. He also said his proposal would allow local governments to re-enact a ban on alcohol sales on Election Day if they desired.
He noted that alcohol sales are allowed when special elections are held.
To boost his bill, Simpson called on Doug Gallenstein, who owns five liquor stores in Northern Kentucky and one in Louisville, and Stacy Roof, president and chief executive officer of the Kentucky Restaurant Association.
Gallenstein said the election ban forces him to put 18 employees out of work on Election Day. Roof said the ban lowers the payroll tax it delivers to the state.
Senate Licensing and Occupations chairman John Schickel, R-Union, said the ban "makes no good common sense and it's time to do away with it."
Simpson has been pushing the bill since 2006, but Schickel said support for it is picking up.
Several lawmakers on the committee said they would support Simpson's measure in the 2013 General Assembly, which begins in January.
Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, called the current law "outdated and antiquated." No committee member spoke against Simpson's bill.
Simpson said several organizations are backing his legislation, including the Kentucky Association of Counties, Kentucky League of Cities, Kentucky Restaurant Association and Kentucky Retail Federation.
But the Kentucky League on Alcohol and Gambling Problems will fight the bill, its president, Don Cole, said in a telephone interview.
"This will create more problems than it helps," he said.
Cole said poll workers are not law-enforcement officials who are trained to handle alcoholics, and voters should feel safe when they go to the polls.
"It might never happen, but there's always the possibility that with more alcohol available on election days, somebody will get killed at the polls by a drunk," he said.
Cole also said that before the ban was implemented, alcohol frequently was distributed to buy votes on election days.