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Ruston alcohol sales push to begin

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Backers of a proposal to expand alcohol sales in Ruston say they’re ready to begin their push toward the March 25 referendum.

“Our main thing is we’re going to say vote ‘yes’ on all (the propositions on the ballot),” consultant John Hatch said Friday.

Primarily at issue is whether local stores can sell high- content alcohol, including wine and liquor. Walmart and Brookshire’s, parent company of Super 1 Foods, are behind the move.

But what complicates the pending vote is a state law requiring all five Louisiana localoption possibilities to be on the ballot. Each option must be voted on separately.

If city voters want to keep the alcohol options already in effect, they must vote them back in again, plus decide on the high-content question, as well as another option that would allow bars in the city.

“It’s confusing. There’s no doubt about it,” Ruston City Attorney Bill Carter said.

The last local-option election was in November 2002 and centered on allowing restaurants to serve alcohol for consumption on premises.

In that referendum voters approved low-content sales at grocery and convenience stores — primarily beer and wine coolers — and high-and low-content sales at restaurants. But they rejected bars and the high- content sales at grocery and convenience stores.

Balloting is already underway for the approximately 657 city voters eligible to vote by mail. Those ballots must be returned to the parish registrar of voters office by 4:30 p.m. March 24.

Early voting for in-person voters begins March 11.

In December, Ruston’s Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to call the referendum, but the move was mostly a formality. By law, a governing body must set an election if 25% of the voters ask it to do so.

That happened in late November.

“It’s time to remind everybody that signing the petition was just part one,” Hatch said. “Now they need to do part two, which is come out and vote.”

It was Hatch’s Texas-based firm that carried the petition for Walmart and Brookshire’s.

The corporations claim expanded sales will not only give customers more choices, but also keep business in Ruston that’s now going to Grambling, Minden, Monroe, and other nearby cities were liquor is available.

At the urging of Mayor Ronny Walker, Ruston’s Board of Aldermen has already adopted several ordinances that Walker’s called “reasonable safeguards for public safety” should voters opt for expanded sales and bars.

Among other things, the new rules outlaw high- content package sales in any retail business smaller than 15,000 heated square feet.

The regulations also call for creation of an entertainment overlay district that encompasses most of the downtown and in which bars could locate, as long as they are main streets and at least a quarter mile apart. Drive-thru sales are also prohibited.

Aldermen are expected to vote on creating the entertainment zone at the March 6 meeting.