Legislators want governor to veto bill OK'ing Sunday morning sales

COLUMBIA -- Lexington Rep. Ted Pitts said he got calls from voters Friday who felt as if they had been tricked.

Some lawmakers said they felt the same way after learning a Pitts-authored portion of the state's budget abolishes for one year the blue law that prevents some retailers from opening before 1:30 p.m. on Sundays.

The measure applies to 40 of the state's 46 counties. If it becomes law, retailers would be able to set their own Sunday hours starting July 1. The change would not affect the Sunday ban on alcohol sales.

"I hope the governor vetoes it," said Lexington Sen. Nikki Setzler, adding he did not know the Pitts proviso was in the state budget.

Pitts, who offered the change in March, said he was not trying to avoid debate on abolishing a law he says hurts businesses in Lexington County that can't compete with Richland County businesses free to set their own hours.

"This was not slipped into the budget without people being fully aware of it," Pitts said Friday. ".f.f. It wasn't in the afternoon when people are tired. It was morning. People were attentive, and there was debate."

The culture war that is stirred up by tinkering with the state's blue laws is as evident in Lexington County, with 240,000 residents, as it is anywhere in the state.

The population boom of the past 15 years has brought in many more retailers, particularly local outlets of national chains.

The Harbison area remains a regional retail magnet.

But big retailers are spreading across the county, sprouting on farms that once bore peaches and greens. Many are open 12 hours or more daily, a major shift in small towns where retailers were 9-5 operations and sometimes closed on Wednesday to make up for being open Saturday.

However uneasy, Pitts, a commercial real estate broker, said it also is an acknowledgment the future is now.

While many object to dissolving blue laws based on their respect for the Sabbath, he said, in many ways, those same people also have already welcomed the future to town.

"Look at Michelin, our biggest taxpayer in the county (which operates around the clock)," Pitts said. "Look at Sunday brunch on the way from church before 1:30 p.m. Nobody is waiting until 1:30 to clean the motel rooms."

Shoppers like Paula Peterson of Lexington called the change a mixed blessing.

"It's nice to have a time without all the running around into stores so you cannot be distracted and go with your family to church," she said. "But if we need something then, I'm sure I'll be guilty of shopping."

Pitts said he was skeptical his bill could survive a Sanford veto. Two-thirds votes in the House and Senate would be needed to override the bill.