Sunday liquor sales pose dilemma

Washington discarded one of the last remnants of its puritanical past this week.

Entombed in law since 1909, Revised Code of Washington 9:58.110 made it a misdemeanor to “slander a woman” by saying anything bad about a female 12 or older that could injure her reputation or expose her to contempt.

Unless the woman was a prostitute, then you could say whatever you wanted without fear of arrest.

On Friday, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill that repealed the old law. She did so at a middle school in Olympia, telling students that society handles hate speech and discrimination against women differently now than 96 years ago.

Times change, and the state needs to change with it, she said.

The Legislature hopes she will feel that way about booze.

House Bill 1379, as passed by the Senate this week, eases the ban on Sunday sales at state-owned and sanctioned liquor stores – the only place you can buy a bottle of bourbon, whiskey or other distilled spirits in the state.

The measure allows 20 of the state’s 162 outlets and any of the 154 contract stores to operate for five hours on Sundays starting Sept. 1. After a year, lawmakers would see if profits were up and whether the sales had caused any problems.

The Liquor Control Board will decide which stores would be open on Sunday. It’s likely at least one of Snohomish County’s 17 state-owned stores would get the go-ahead. There also are four contract stores in the county, and another four in Island County.

Since territorial days, Washington has banned the sale of hard liquor on Sundays. Legislators codified the practice in 1933 after the demise of Prohibition, establishing a state-run monopoly on the sale of packaged distilled spirits and wholesale distribution of liquor to licensed establishments.

Today, you can buy a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine on Sunday at any of 4,400 retail businesses. You can go to a bar, restaurant or a Mariners game and order a drink. You just cannot go to a store for a fifth of the strong stuff.

Senators passed the bill 31-17, their votes driven by personal beliefs rather than partisan politics.

Bans on alcohol sales date back to the temperance movements of the 19th century, an era when Sunday enjoyed wide status as a day of rest. Democratic and Republican senators who want to preserve that tradition opposed the Senate bill.

Supporters cited the evolution of a longer workweek and Sunday’s emergence as a shopping day. They want to open the state outlets and run them like a business to make money, or get out of the liquor business completely.

Gregoire is undecided. It’s not about money, she said. She wants to be sure Sunday liquor sales doesn’t trigger more crime or accidents. She’s also pondering the deeper question.

“I can go to a restaurant on a Sunday and order a drink. I can go to a grocery store and buy beer and wine,” she said. “I’m asking myself, why can’t I go to a liquor store and buy liquor.”

It’s the law, and she will decide if the time has come to make a change.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield’s column on politics runs every Sunday; 360-352-8623 or

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