South Carolina House Approves Sunday Liquor Sales, Potentially Lifting Another Religious Restriction

From left to right, South Carolina Rep. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, Rep. Weston Newton, R-Bluffton, Rep. Jason Elliott, R-Greenville, and Rep. Mark Smith, R-Daniel Island, talk as the House debates a bill to allow Sunday liquor sales on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
From left to right, South Carolina Rep. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, Rep. Weston Newton, R-Bluffton, Rep. Jason Elliott, R-Greenville, and Rep. Mark Smith, R-Daniel Island, talk as the House debates a bill to allow Sunday liquor sales on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina House has given key approval to a bill allowing liquor stores to stay open on Sundays for a few hours if their local governments allow it.

Supporters said it is time to update antiquated, centuries-old rules based on religion that designated Sunday as a day of rest. They said it would help businesses — especially those frequented by tourists who spend well over $20 billion annually in South Carolina and who are sometimes surprised to find they can't get a bottle of tequila or rum on a summer beach day.

The House voted 68-44 for the bill, with most of the no votes coming from the most conservative Republicans and a few rural Democrats. The proposal faces one more routine approval vote before it heads to the Senate. It would join another bill which would allow customers to pick up alcohol when they get their groceries or food order brought out to them in the parking lot.

The bill would allow liquor stores to open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday if a county or city council agrees to put the idea up for a public vote and it gets a majority approval.

“We understand this is not a theocracy. We are not a church,” said Republican Rep. Gil Gatch from Summerville, who is a lawyer and a former pastor. “Last time I checked, less restrictive government is one of the big tenets conservatives stand for.”

South Carolina was long a bastion of blue laws to prevent people from having to work on Sundays but the demands of a modern society began to chip away at the rules. First, gas stations could open on Sundays — and then restaurants and grocery stores followed, which left retailers like Walmart to wall off the clothing and general merchandise sections with grocery carts.

By the 1990s as South Carolina attracted international companies like BMW, new residents and employees put pressure on the state to open more things and most of the blue laws faded away. But liquor stores have remained closed.

U.S. states have a patchwork of alcohol and liquor laws. Only a few states still don’t allow liquor stores to open on Sunday. Some restrict how alcoholic drinks can be sold on that day or leave it up to individual counties or cities to decide on Sunday liquor sales.

Republican Rep. John McCravy said the bill was another example of South Carolina's traditional values fading away and that owners of small liquor stores will feel compelled to work another day because the corporate outlets will be open.

“One of our long time values in South Carolina is a day of rest," said McCravy. “Mom and pop stores need a rest too.”