By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
Canadian County commissioners are being asked to consider calling an election so voters can decide whether to revise Sunday liquor laws to help local restaurants.
District 3 County Commissioner Jack Stewart, of Yukon, said he’s heard increasing requests from business owners and citizens about changing what hours on Sunday restaurants can sell alcohol.
For decades, Canadian County restaurants have not been allowed by law to sell alcohol products before 2 p.m. Sunday.
“We are one of only two counties (the other is Kiowa) that has that 2 o’clock Sunday rule,” Commissioner Stewart said.
“It’s a county issue, not a city issue.”
Yukon Chamber of Commerce CEO Pam Shelton discussed the matter during Tuesday’s Yukon Legislative Breakfast.
“I’ve had a lot of my restaurants coming to me,” Shelton said. “There’s two ways it can change. The county commissioners can put it on the ballot … and we would all vote on it.
“The other way is that we’d get a petition and it would be signed by a percentage of voters in the last governor’s race.”
The current 2 p.m. Sunday law has hurt some Yukon-area restaurants who are seeing customers go to Oklahoma County to purchase alcohol earlier on Sundays, Commissioner Stewart noted.
“They say they’re losing a lot of business,” he said. “We’re losing tax money to Oklahoma County. Some people are not eating Sunday lunch in Yukon. They’re running just a few miles to the east over that.”
Some restaurant owners want to be able to serve alcohol before 2 p.m. Sunday.
“I don’t see anything wrong with moving it up to noon or eleven, or whatever it would be,” Commissioner Stewart said.
WOULD BE UP TO VOTERS
Canadian County voters must approve any change to the county’s liquor laws.
“We, as county commissioners, can call an election or that group (who supports the change) can gather the required thousands of signatures on an initiative petition,” Stewart said. “Either way, it would have to go to a vote of the people ultimately. It would just save the initiative process if we (commissioners) were to agree to it.”
Canadian County Commission Chairman Marc Hader, the District 1 commissioner, suggested that supporters of changing the Sunday rule start collecting signatures for an initiative petition. About 6,800 signatures would be needed based on 15 percent of the Canadian County vote total in Oklahoma’s last gubernatorial election, Hader said.
“We have repeatedly informed those few folks who have expressed an interest in this subject of the statute which allows them to create a ballot initiative for the county on the topic,” Hader said. “I encourage those who feel strongly about this to exercise their right and ability to influence their community.
“I remember when I helped be ‘boots-on-the-ground’ personally for causes like ‘no new taxes’ in the 1990s and ‘right to work’ in the early 2000s. I’ve really felt like I made a real impact through those efforts.”
Despite Hader’s stance, Commissioner Stewart said he plans to propose an agenda item for an upcoming meeting so county commissioners can discuss setting an election.
“But it takes two of us (commissioners) to call an election,” he said. “More or less, there’s just not been a public outcry.”
Stewart wants any election on this item to be held on the same day as an already-scheduled Canadian County election.
“I don’t want us to have to bear the cost of another election,” Stewart said.
Yukon Chamber CEO Shelton listed nearly a dozen Yukon-area restaurants she said want to be able to sell alcohol before 2 p.m. Sunday.
Apparently, quite a few Yukon diners really want their Bloody Mary’s and Mimosas for Sunday brunch.
“People will walk out,” Shelton said, describing some frustrated restaurant patrons. “They’re driving down the road to Bethany or Oklahoma City. That’s tax dollars that are being taken away from Yukon.
“We were trying to do this without having to get a petition signed. If we can get two of the three county commissioners, they can put it to a ballot instead of having to do that.”
Shelton has offered the Yukon chamber board room, 10 W Main, for a meeting of chamber members concerned about this issue and the reported loss of sales tax dollars. She emphasized the Yukon chamber is not endorsing the Sunday rule change.