When Okaloosa County Commissioner Trey Goodwin campaigned for his current term four years ago, he began to reach out to local residents on Facebook to find out their thoughts on local area Sunday alcohol sale rules.

"A sizeable majority of the citizen input that I received indicated that yes, maybe some of those Sunday laws were outdated, but in Okaloosa County, it seems to work," Goodwin said Thursday.

He said while he is not opposed to altering the county’s blue law, which prohibits stores from selling alcoholic beverages on Sunday before 1 p.m., he is not interested in changing something that isn’t broken.

 

In Northwest Florida, where churches still outnumber bars in many communities, restrictions on Sunday alcohol sales are still common.

In unincorporated Okaloosa County, alcoholic beverages can be sold Monday through Saturday, from 8 a.m. until 4 a.m. the following morning. Such sales are generally permitted from 1 p.m. Sunday until 4 a.m. Monday.

"In the unincorporated area, we have some extremely conservative rural areas," Goodwin said. "They probably want to feel like their viewpoints are represented by the county."

Besides the county, the town of Cinco Bayou and the cities of Crestview, Niceville and Valparaiso continue to enforce blue laws.

The Rev. Joel McGraw of Crestview Independent Baptist Church, however, said he is against alcohol, period.

In 2016, he opposed the Crestview City Council’s decision to give downtown businesses the option of serving alcohol outside during special events.

McGraw said his views on intoxicating beverages were largely shaped by an accident he was involved in when he was a boy.

"If I go back when I was a young boy in Pensacola … my folks were rushing me to the emergency room at Baptist Hospital, and as my dad was entering an intersection, a man ran through the red light and T-boned the car," McGraw said. "It sent me through the windshield, and for four days they didn’t know if I was going to live or die. I’ve got scars on my face right now because of that. Some of my facial muscles will not work because of that. And (the red-light runner) was drunk, and he was a habitual drinker."

McGraw said his mother’s nose was broken and his father received some lacerations in the collision.

"So my view on alcohol, period, is that it’s unnecessary," he said. "If it’s so good, why do we have such strict laws? If it’s so good, why is it that we’re putting people in jail? If it’s so good, why is it that people are dying (and) being maimed for life?

"So my stance is period, we don’t need it any time of the day."

He said a ban on the sale of alcohol for at least one day of the week would be wonderful.

"It might save some lives," McGraw said.

While there are those who would like to see the laws become more restrictive, others – including businesses that rely on alcohol sales – support looser regulations.

Destin officials last week threw out the city’s blue law and implemented new restrictions that now prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages from 4-7 a.m. every day. The new rules match those for Fort Walton Beach.

One of the biggest changes to local area rules on booze sales occurred in Santa Rosa County back in 2005. That’s when voters approved legalizing the sale of hard liquor and wine, ending a 68-year "damp" spell.

Status quo

When it comes to alcohol sales times, many local leaders seem to prefer the status quo.

Okaloosa County Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel, who took office in November 2014, represents District 2, which includes Okaloosa Island and most of Ocean City.

"I wasn’t around when they invented the blue law, but there are plenty of opportunities to buy alcohol" at various times of the week, she said, adding that she was in favor of upholding tradition. "It’s very important for some people not to have alcohol sold on Sunday morning.

"I also see that there are people who want to go boating on Sunday morning, or go grocery shopping on Super Bowl Sunday" with plans to buy alcohol, "but with a little bit of planning" they can purchase it beforehand, Ketchel said.

She said she imagines the county’s 4-8 a.m. prohibition on purchasing booze was implemented so people will go home after the bars close instead of buying more alcohol.

Some jurisdictions that have blue laws might have created them because they had problems with people abusing alcohol, or the regulations might have been motivated by religion, Goodwin said.

"One example I heard was the laws were designed so there were not intoxicated people disturbing Sunday church services," he said. "But from the cities that relaxed their laws, I never heard that issue."

He said he is not surprised that blue laws exist in some areas, "because from talking with citizens, there is no huge uproar to get rid of it. If they’re going to have people over on a Sunday to watch football and want to drink before 1 o’clock, they’ll get the alcohol before Sunday. I don’t think (neighboring jurisdictions having differing rules) has caused any mass confusion."

A mix of laws

In the small town of Shalimar, officials threw out its blue law and changed its other regulations on the sale of alcoholic beverages almost two decades ago, Town Administrator Tom Burns said recently.

"We allow bootlegging, moonshining, smuggling, all that stuff," Burns said tongue-in-cheek. "Whatever you want, come to Shalimar to do it,"

All kidding aside, he said the operators of stores, restaurants and other businesses who want to sell alcoholic beverages in Shalimar must apply for a special exception. Each exception must ultimately be approved by the Town Commission.

"That’s the way we handle it now, on a case-by-case basis," Burns said.

But just down the road in the small town of Cinco Bayou, officials implemented stricter rules on the sale of alcoholic beverages within the town limits on Sundays in 2003.

Such sales are allowed between 7 a.m. and midnight Monday through Saturday. On Sundays, they’re permitted from 1 p.m. to midnight at convenience stores and similar businesses.

Town Manager/Clerk Keith Williams said the rules were tightened because vagrants "were congregating in our parks, just because our alcohol sales rules were more lenient back then. When we changed the rules, it helped us out a lot."

The town’s tougher law on Sunday sales makes for an interesting situation at a couple of neighboring gas stations: Customers who want to buy alcohol at the CEFCO at Beal Parkway and Irwin Avenue on Sunday have to wait until 1 p.m., while those at the Tom Thumb gas station across the street in Fort Walton Beach can buy it starting at 7 a.m.

The CEFCO station opened in 2016. Williams said he has heard only one or two complaints from people regarding the town’s Sunday sales. The complainants were boaters who wanted to buy beer from CEFCO on a Sunday morning before taking their boat out.

"They said it kind of laughing, "We’ll just go across the street to buy it."

In the county seat of Crestview, the 1 p.m. Sunday start time for sales of alcohol at stores has been around for many years, Mayor David Cadle said.

"There have been worries of things going downhill quickly" if city officials loosened the Sunday restriction, he said.

 

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