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Pinellas seeking uniform blue law

The county wants cities to find a consensus on Sunday alcohol sales after St. Petersburg changed its law.

By MICHAEL SANDLER
Published August 20, 2003

CLEARWATER - Pinellas County commissioners won't spoil the Sunday morning party in St. Petersburg.

The better decision, they decided, is to ask all of Pinellas' two dozen cities to help decide when businesses should begin selling alcohol.

Commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to send a letter to the mayors of each city, hoping to come up with a consensus on blue laws so that they won't create problems for law enforcement officials.

When the answers come back, commissioners will hold a meeting, change the overall county code and let cities modify their own blue laws within the hours defined.

Until then, sheriff's deputies won't crack down on vendors opening early on Sunday in St. Petersburg, even though the city changed its ordinance in June without obtaining approval from the County Commission.

Earlier this month, Pinellas County attorneys challenged St. Petersburg's decision to move up Sunday hours from 1 p.m. to 11 a.m.

Jim Bennett, chief assistant county attorney, wrote that only the Pinellas County Commission has the authority to change the law because it clearly calls for uniform regulations throughout the county.

Blue laws were established as a special act of the Florida Legislature in the 1960s and adopted by the county in 1980, when Pinellas established home rule. Thus, county attorneys say, only the county commission can change it.

But this week, commissioners agreed that cities should share in changing the law. Several cities had expressed interest in following St. Petersburg's lead.

"I think it's about getting into the 20th Century," Commissioner Susan Latvala said. Pinellas County needs to "call the cities together, say what do you want to do, change the ordinance, and be done with it," she said.

Commissioners also asked to hear from the sheriff's office on how the St. Petersburg decision would affect patrols.

"Our position is we really have no position on this issue," said Chief Deputy Jim Coats. He said the sheriff's legal counsel has reviewed the past three years and found no connection between early morning alcohol sales and crime.

"It might be nice to have some uniformity," Coats said. "But it doesn't matter to us if they start serving at noon or 10 a.m. It hasn't been a problem."

- Michael Sandler can be reached at 445-4162 or sandler@sptimes.com

[Last modified August 20, 2003, 02:07:29]


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