Unofficial Opinion 96-23
This responds to your request regarding the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 3-7-2 enacted during the 1996 Regular Session of the General Assembly. As you know, O.C.G.A. § 3-7-2 provides:
Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, a bona fide private club at which the sale of distilled spirits by the drink for consumption only on the premises where sold is otherwise authorized pursuant to this chapter is authorized to sell distilled spirits by the drink at any time on Sundays.
Your specific inquiry is whether the above-quoted language authorizes validly licensed private clubs to sell alcoholic beverages by the drink at any time on Sunday without regard to the laws of local counties and municipalities.
Sales of alcoholic beverages by bona fide private clubs are specifically addressed in Chapter 7 of Title 3. With regard to private clubs, counties and municipalities have significant regulatory authority. Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 3-7-40:
(a) Nothing contained in this chapter shall be so construed as to limit the licensing and regulatory authority of any municipality or county in which the sale of alcoholic beverages is lawful.
(b) Each municipality and county may license and regulate any bona fide private club located within the licensing and regulatory jurisdiction of the municipality or county.
In construing statutes, certain presumptions must be followed. All statutes are presumed to be enacted by the legislature with full knowledge of the existing condition of the law and with reference to it. They are therefore to be construed in connection and in harmony with the existing law, and as part of a general and uniform system of jurisprudence, and their meaning and effect is to be determined in connection, not only with the common law and the constitution, but also with reference to other statutes and the decisions of the courts. Hawes v. Dinkler, 224 Ga. 785, 789 (1968) (citing Botts v. Southeastern Pipe-Line Co., 190 Ga. 689, 700 (1940)). Statutes relating to the same subject matter should be read together and harmonized to the extent possible. Cheshire Bridge Enterprises, Inc. v. State, 221 Ga. App. 426, 426 (1996). "It is, of course, fundamental that the cardinal rule to guide the construction of laws is, first, to ascertain the legislative intent and purpose in enacting the law, and then to give it that construction which will effectuate the legislative intent and purpose." Hollowell v. Jove, 247 Ga. 678, 681 (1981); City of Jesup v. Bennett, 226 Ga. 606, 608 (1970). In determining the legislative intent, one must refrain from ascribing to the legislature a wholly unreasonable intention or an intention to do a futile and useless thing. City of Jesup, 226 Ga. at 609. "The construction [of statutes] must square with common sense and sound reasoning." Tuten v. City of Brunswick, 262 Ga. 399, 404 (1992) (citing Blalock v. State, 166 Ga. 465, 470 (1928)).
The use of the language "[n]otwithstanding any other provision of this chapter" in O.C.G.A. § 3-7-2 makes clear that without regard to the other statutes in Chapter 7 of Title 3, bona fide private clubs "at which the sale of distilled spirits by the drink for consumption only on the premises where sold is otherwise authorized pursuant to [Chapter 7]" are authorized to make sales of distilled spirits by the drink at any time on Sundays. Therefore, it appears that the General Assembly intended to exempt bona fide private clubs from regulation by local counties and municipalities regarding their hours of sale of distilled spirits by the drink for consumption on the premises on Sundays. The language of O.C.G.A. § 3-7-2 appears to be equally clear that it only applies to sales of distilled spirits and does not apply to sales of malt beverages or wine.
In summary, it is my unofficial opinion that O.C.G.A. § 3-7-2 exempts bona fide private clubs from regulation by local counties and municipalities regarding their hours of sale of distilled spirits by the drink for consumption on the premises on Sundays.
W. Wright Banks, Jr.
Assistant Attorney General