Sheriff enforces Sunday alcohol ordinance

Published 4:10 am Friday, March 15, 2013

A 1978 parish ordinance that prohibits the sale of alcohol on Sunday is now being enforced by the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office, but local bar owners question the ordinance’s legality.

Last month Sheriff Randy Seal notified bar owners operating inside the parish but outside the city limits of Bogalusa and the town limits of Franklinton that they must close every week between 12:01 a.m. Sunday and 6 a.m. Monday. He also informed the owners of other businesses that the sale of alcohol in those areas on Sundays is prohibited. In his letter, hand-delivered to the businesses, Seal quoted the 1978 ordinance, which does exempt private clubs, and announced his intention to enforce the law.

Four establishments are affected by the ordinance, according to the WPSO. They are Birdie’s Roadhouse on Louisiana Highway 21 north, outside Varnado; Landers in Hackley; the Pub on South Columbia Street, just south of Bogalusa; and the Red Zone on Louisiana Highway 21 south, just east of Bogalusa.

“To the best of our knowledge, all establishments are compliant,” Chief Deputy Mike Haley said this week.

While they are closing as directed, bar owners say a state law supersedes the parish’s ordinance, and the local law must be validated by the voters, which has not happened.

Wayne Smith, who owns the Pub, claims the Washington Parish “Sunday closing” ordinance was invalidated in 1986 when the state passed its own “Blue Law.”

“I realize that local governments do have the option to opt out and pass a local law, but they have to go before the voters,” he said. “Sunday closings never went before the voters here, so it’s invalid.

“The towns of Zwolle, Lake Charles and Sulphur’s blue laws were all struck down by the courts because they had not gone before voters.”

Smith said his position is backed by a ruling of the attorney general.

“Two and a half years ago when Franklinton attempted to start selling beer on Sunday, the attorney general ruled that they could have been selling it all along,” he said. “That’s the law I’m talking about.

“Franklinton did it right and held an election.”

Smith said the local law, as written, does not even include penalties for violators.

He added he is not generally an advocate of selling alcohol on Sundays.

“I am not interested in actually opening on Sunday,” Smith said. “My business is a late night business. The law on the books says we have to close at midnight. My business just gets started at midnight. I would like to stay open until about 4 a.m. like I do during the week.

“That’s what I want to continue to do, but there is an issue with the ordinance on the books. It’s not valid.”

He said the minutes of the Parish Council meeting during which the local law was passed make the action seem to have been “spur of the moment at the request of a couple of churches” that were represented at the meeting.

“I realize some people in Washington Parish don’t want Sunday alcohol sales,” Smith said. “I don’t want it during the day. But Saturday night is different.”

And Saturday night ends early Sunday morning for a lot of local people, he said.

“Bogalusa people are going to party somewhere on Saturday night,” Smith said. “They’ll go to Covington, Slidell, the coast…

“I am 100 yards outside the city. They are safer leaving a local establishment. We are endangering citizens by not (providing) a place for them here, plus we lose sales.”

That adds up to more than just the sum of a few taxes, he said.

“We’re sending revenue out of town,” Smith said. “We lose the sales tax, which is not much, but we also lose out on employees’ recirculating money.

“I had 11 part-time employees who lost a day’s work because of this. They spent their money in the parish.”

The Sunday closings affect many more than just the handful of bars, he said. Specifically, convenience stores and other businesses are included in the prohibition.

Smith said he doesn’t believe he is truly required by law to shut down at midnight on Saturdays.

“But I’m not going to get arrested over it,” he said

Still, Smith is trying to stop the enforcement until an election validates or overturns the parish ordinance, and he’s hoping to find cohorts for the cause.

Sandy Nauman, owner of Birdie’s Roadhouse, also cited the state law and referred to the local ordinance.

“I would like to have the (parish) law cleared up, made legible,” she said. “It’s very vague.”

Meanwhile, the sheriff is holding firm.

“When I was sworn in as your sheriff, I took an oath to uphold all laws of the United States and the State of Louisiana,” Seal said. “That includes parish ordinances. As your sheriff, I have a duty to enforce all laws, and that is what I am going to do. I’m certainly not taking a righteous position to judge whether or not these businesses should operate on Sundays. I am simply doing the right thing by upholding the law as it is written.”

Chief Deputy Mike Haley responded to queries this week.

“The sheriff’s office position is that we will enforce the law as written,” he said. “If the law changes, we will enforce the new law. Our position is not to judge the merits of any particular law, simply to enforce the law fairly and in a reasonable manner. It is the duty of the courts to interpret the merits of any law.”