Beer ordinance is being made constitutional

Friday, October 16, 2009

The phrase "legal alien" is being added to Lewisburg's ordinance on beer sale permits.

Such terminology was recommended by City Attorney Bill Haywood during Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

It's to bring the ordinance into compliance with the U.S. Constitution.

The discrepancy came to the attention of city officials nearly six weeks ago when a beer sale permit application from Mei Liang Xiao, 40, of 5th Avenue, was considered by the city's Beer Board.

Xiao, proprietor of China Wok in the shopping plaza on North Ellington Parkway that includes the Food Lion grocery, isn't a U.S. citizen but he has a work visa. As such, he's what Haywood describes as a legal alien - as opposed to an illegal alien.

Xiao's application for a permit to sell beer with meals shows that he has a 10-year work visa. That makes him a resident alien, not an illegal alien.

Lewisburg's ordinance says that people who aren't U.S. citizens can't get beer sale permits unless they have an American partner or are doing business as a corporation. A sole proprietorship run by an alien isn't eligible for a city beer permit, according to the city code that's in effect now.

Councilman Robin Minor, a member of the city Beer Board, recognized the inequity and said during the Sept. 1 Beer Board meeting that the law would have to be changed.

A few days later, Lewisburg's law was explained to State Alcoholic Beverage Commission Executive Director Danielle Elks. Asked if she could comment on the situation here, Elks replied that there's a state law similar to Lewisburg's ordinance, but the state ABC issues permits to qualified foreigners because of an Attorney General's opinion that says it would be unconstitutional to deny such a permit to a foreign national working here legally.

Mayor Barbara Woods called for a motion on an ordinance drafted by Haywood, "since the state attorney general's office says our beer ordinance is unconstitutional."

Minor seconded Councilwoman Quinn Brandon's motion to proceed and the vote was unanimous with Councilmen Odie Whitehead Jr. and Ronald McRady voting yes. Councilman Hershel Davis was absent.

Technically, the proposed amendment removes a few words about prohibiting legal aliens from getting permits and adds a definition of the word "person" to mean a U.S. citizen or a legal alien.

Meanwhile, Haywood has said, "We can discriminate against illegal aliens. They're not protected under the Tennessee or the U.S. Constitution, as far as the 14th Amendment is concerned."