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Many options before us with alcohol vote

Friday, December 2, 2022

Well folks, seems like we only just finished up an election, but soon enough those of us who live in Ruston will be making another pivotal decision for our area.

A petition to compel the Ruston Board of Aldermen to call a referendum on alcohol sales within the city limits has been certified as successful this week.

In other words, in a few months we citizens will decide how wet or dry we’d like Ruston to be moving forward.

Backed by Walmart and Brookshire’s, the petition garnered signatures from more than a quarter of us registered Ruston voters. Therefore, by law aldermen have to place the issue on the ballot. They’re scheduled to vote on doing so Monday.

That ballot will come before us in March. What’ll actually be written on it isn’t particularly easy to understand, so I urge everyone in the community to make sure you do your homework rather than trying to decipher it for the first time on election day.

The big grocery stores wanted this petition because they want to sell package beverages that contain any percentage of alcohol by volume, rather than just the watered-down stuff that they can sell in Ruston now.

But we’re not simply going to be voting on whether we like that idea or not. The range of outcomes is much broader.

That’s because Louisiana law binds together five individual propositions that govern different aspects of local alcohol sales and consumption on premises and requires all five of them to go up for votes at the same time.

In other words, if a municipality wants to change any piece of its alcohol code, it has to put every piece up for an individual yes/no vote on the same ballot — even the ones that voters have previously already passed.

So even though the petition was aimed at widening the rules — and presumably that’s what those who signed it wanted — depending on who actually shows up and votes on election day, those rules could actually become more restrictive instead.

It’s a wide-ranging gamble. Let’s examine the possibilities.

Let’s say you don’t like change. You want everything to remain as it is now.

You want stores to be able to sell package beverages with less than 6% alcohol content — like my trusty Redd’s apple ale — but nothing stronger than that. You want to allow those low-content drinks to be consumed anywhere, but keep the high-content stuff relegated to restaurants only. No pure bars.

If that’s the case, you’d vote for propositions 1, 2, and 5. Those are the ones voters passed in 2002, the last time a referendum was called — well before a lot of current voters like myself either moved here or came of age, or both.

Obviously, if you’re fully against alcohol as a concept, you’d vote “no” on all five propositions. That’s not hard to figure out.

If you want what we have now, plus what the grocery stores want — the ability for them to sell higher-content drinks in package form only, with no consumption on premises — you’d vote for propositions 1, 2, 4 and 5. Number 4 is the target for the big players who put this proposition on. If you want pure bars in Ruston, i.e. bars that aren’t also restaurants, you’d need to include proposition 3 in your “yes” column. The proposition language itself doesn’t mention bars, which is part of why you should have a gameplan before you arrive. Otherwise you run the risk of not being sure which items yield the result you want.

Beyond the various combinations of these five propositions, there’s another factor at play in how all this will look when the dust settles.

The city’s aldermen are contemplating passing some ordinances Monday that would put limitations on some of these new options if they pass at the polls in March.

If we pass the proposition allowing higher- content package sales at stores, one proposed ordinance would curtail that a bit and limit those sales to only certain establishments by square footage — more or less restricting it to only the same large grocery stores that lobbied for the petition, rather than convenience stores as well.

If we pass the proposition that allows bars, another ordinance would create a certain district around the downtown area where they could go, rather than allowing them to crop up any old place.

If you have thoughts on that, Monday’s council meeting is the place to be.

Then, make sure you know what you’d like to see and which propositions that corresponds to before you head to the polls in a few months.

Caleb Daniel is the Ruston Daily Leader’s Digital News Editor. Caleb is a Louisiana Tech University graduate who covers the Lincoln Parish Police Jury and schools for the Ruston Leader.