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County defers to Tampa on changing blue law

Commissioners will wait to see how the city addresses the issue before they allow earlier alcohol sales.

By BILL VARIAN
Published September 3, 2003

TAMPA - A majority of Hillsborough commissioners appear willing to at least consider relaxing the county's blue law.

But they'll wait to see how the city of Tampa treats the issue first.

Following a trend around Tampa Bay, Hillsborough commissioners were poised to consider allowing people to buy alcohol after 11 a.m. on Sundays. The current starting time for alcohol sales is 1 p.m., the time some televised professional football games begin.

But County Administrator Dan Kleman opted to pull the topic from today's commission meeting until after the Tampa City Council takes action.

The City Council is scheduled to hold a second public hearing on a similar law change Thursday.

Clearly, Kleman has been talking to some of his commissioners, who would like to see the county move cautiously.

"I think it's prematurely before our board because the city of Tampa hasn't passed it yet," Commissioner Jan Platt said before Kleman formally pulled the item from today's agenda.

Platt nevertheless said she might be willing to support changing the law if the city of Tampa does, "in light of changing times."

She is joined by Commissioners Kathy Castor and Pat Frank, who said they are inclined to pass the measure.

Castor said she doesn't think it's a pressing issue, but would lean toward supporting the earlier sales time if it is presented to board members.

Frank was more firmly in support, calling so-called blue laws archaic.

"We have a lot of different religions in this country," Frank said. "Do we shut down all the bars whenever there's a religious event?"

Earlier this year, the city of St. Petersburg approved a similar rollback to the time when people can purchase alcohol.

After hearing from other cities interested in following suit, the Pinellas Commission is polling mayors to gauge how pervasive the sentiment is for considering a countywide change.

However, the proposal is not a slam dunk in Hillsborough.

Commissioner Jim Norman said he is willing to hear from the public on the matter. That is the first step commissioners would have to take in order to change the law. Beyond that, he won't commit.

Commissioner Ronda Storms stated firmly that she will not support a change, saying it is not necessary.

Commission Chairman Tom Scott said he isn't likely to support a change, noting that alcohol is available in clubs until 3 a.m.

"I am more apt not to support than to support it," Scott said. "Nobody has really given me any valid reason why we should change it."

Commissioner Ken Hagan said he was undecided, but inclined toward opposing the change. He questioned the timing of the proposal.

- Bill Varian can be reached at 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com

[Last modified September 3, 2003, 01:32:04]


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