Politics & Government

Lexington Sunday liquor sales in measure

If the city chooses to allow it, all bars and restaurants in Lexington could sell alcohol by the drink on Sundays -- and do so late into the night -- courtesy of a bill amendment approved by a Senate committee yesterday.

The Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee yesterday approved an amendment to House Bill 138 that gives the Urban County Government the power to decide the hours in which distilled spirits and wine may be sold by the drink on Sundays. House Bill 138 primarily deals with the sale of alcoholic beverages at historic sites.

The amendment also lets the city set the criteria regarding which businesses are allowed to sell alcohol on Sundays.

Currently, businesses that generate more than 50 percent of their revenue from food sales and have seating for 100 or more customers are allowed to sell malt beverages, distilled spirits and wine by the drink between 1 and 11 p.m. on Sundays. Racetracks, convention centers and some hotels are also allowed to sell on Sundays.

The amendment gives the city the power to decide whether it wants to let bars and restaurants that seat fewer than 100 customers sell alcohol on Sunday, said Anna Marletta, spokeswoman for the Lexington Food and Beverage Association.

Whether Lexington can set the hours for Sunday sales was a point of controversy in December, when the Urban County Council voted to allow the sale of distilled spirits and wine by the drink until 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve, which began on a Sunday.

City attorneys argued the council could not extend the hours past 11 p.m. because of state law that applies only to urban county governments. But former Lexington Mayor Jim Amato contended that a different state law allows second-class cities to set their own hours.

"It will make it where that is a legitimate vote," said Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, the amendment's sponsor. "Because right now, the vote they took is not really legal."

The measure would also allow Lexington to approve Sunday sales in the future and to extend hours for the 2010 World Equestrian Games if it chooses, Buford said.

If the amended bill is approved, the council will most probably review the city's Sunday alcohol laws, council members said. The law change would not apply to sales of packaged wine or distilled spirits. City attorneys contend that the council already has the power to allow package sales of beer on Sundays.

Councilman Don Blevins Jr. said he doesn't have strong feelings about changing the hours of sale, but he wants to level the playing field. "It's unfair because only particular businesses are allowed to sell alcohol on Sundays because it excludes smaller businesses," Blevins said.