A proposal to allow expanded Sunday liquor sales in 10 tourist-heavy S.C. counties, including Richland and Lexington, sparked a tense debate Thursday between evangelicals and a state lawmaker who called them hypocrites.
“Judge not, (lest) ye be judged,” said S.C. House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, quoting the Bible as he began a minutes-long, heated response to a Republican lawmaker who said South Carolinians don’t want to see customers entering liquor stores as they drive home from church.
A House Judiciary Committee panel passed the proposal to allow expanded sales after nearly an hour of debate in which state Rep. John McCravy, R-Greenwood, and S.C. Baptist Convention representative Joe Mack decried liquor as a danger to public health and safety.
“Back when we were going from the mini-bottle to the big bottle, we were saying we don’t think you ought to drink out of either one of the bottles,” Mack told the House panel, adding he would prefer a bill to ban all alcohol sales in South Carolina. “The more liquor we serve, the more problems we’re going to have.”
The proposal by state Rep. Gary Clary, R-Pickens, would allow stores to sell liquor on Sunday in 10 counties, as long as local leaders or county voters approve the expanded sales. The 10 counties are Beaufort, Charleston, Florence, Georgetown, Greenville, Horry, Lexington, Richland, Spartanburg and York.
Now, S.C. law allows only restaurants, bars and hotel lounges to serve liquor on Sundays and only by the drink. The law confuses tourists who arrive in the Palmetto State on the weekend and are surprised to learn they can’t buy a bottle of liquor, lawmakers were told Thursday. S.C. stores now can sell liquor 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays.
The bill still has several hurdles to clear before becoming law and, in Bible Belt South Carolina, there could be opposition at every turn.
During the hearing, McCravy — who said he doesn’t drink — expressed concern the bill would create a slippery slope toward 24-hour liquor sales. Even South Carolinians who drink don’t want to see liquor stores on every corner, he said.
“They don’t want to see a liquor store open when they’re driving home from church,” he said. “I guess I’m old-fashioned.”
Mack and McCravy said they think alcohol creates more problems than opioids — citing domestic violence incidents, fatal car wrecks and drunken-driving arrests.
There were 628 deaths from opioid overdoses in South Carolina in 2016. There were 331 drunk-driving deaths during the same year.
“South Carolina has been known as a family-friendly state over the years,” Mack said. “I hate to see us pass laws that are going to make us less family-friendly.”
Clary responded his bill doesn’t require Sunday liquor sales, but gives local governments or their voters the chance to decide whether to allow them. The 10 counties were chosen because they produce the most tax revenue from hotel room rentals, a sign they are tourist hubs.
Columbia Democrat Rutherford was more forceful, saying McCravy was contradicting his own belief system by judging people as they enter a liquor store on Sunday.
“ ‘Judge not, (lest) ye be judged.’ It’s a central tenet in the Bible,” Rutherford said. “If you go back, one of the first miracles that Jesus did was to turn water into wine.”
Rutherford also wondered aloud how the Southern Baptist Convention could claim moral high ground on the issue, given its checkered history on slavery and race relations.
“If they are open and you don’t want to buy it, my suggestion is, don’t go,” Rutherford said, adding he also doesn’t drink.
McCravy demanded a chance to respond.
But the subcommittee’s Democratic chairwoman, state Rep. Beth Bernstein of Richland, allowed a series of procedures to end debate. After the vote, Rutherford and McCravy left the room to talk.
“We were trampled,” Mack complained to House Judiciary Committee chairman Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, who attended the meeting.
Afterward, McCoy told The State that speakers always should be treated with respect in legislative hearings but Bernstein handled the meeting correctly, according to House rules.