Committee accepts amended Sunday alcohol sales bill, moves to full House for vote

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By Tony Cook, IndyStar

For the first time, Indiana lawmakers voted Wednesday to consider a bill that would allow Sunday carryout alcohol sales in Indiana.

But House committee members’ decision earlier in the day to amend a bill to include restrictions on grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores could undermine support for the measure.

The House Public Policy Committee formally adopted the amendment which would force new restrictions on alcohol sales by retailers other than package liquor stores. The committee later voted 10-2 in favor of the amended bill, which moves it on to the full House for a vote.

Those restrictions would ban self checkout of alcohol products and require clerks to be 21. It also would require beer to be sold in a designated area, and liquor to be sold from behind a counter.

“Prohibition is over,” said Chairman Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, who said the amended measure is about convenience for consumers, not about helping package liquor stores or big box retailers.

Dermody said the change is needed because the the state is being viewed as “behind the times” and the ban on Sunday carryout sales is hurting employment recruiting efforts.

Lawmakers also were concerned about the placement of alcohol displays throughout grocery stores, he said, citing beer displays next to back-to-school promotions, for instance. That is one reason why the amendment says beer and wine must be sold in a separate aisle or room, away from other products.

Grant Monahan, president of the Indiana Retail Council, said the visibility of alcohol in stores won’t increase minors’ access to it. Children are already surrounded by alcohol at places like Colts games and Chuck E Cheese’s, he said.

Monahan expressed reservations about the proposed change to the bill, calling the amendment “no compromise,” “a liquor store wish list” and “anti-consumer.”

He also said the new restrictions, if passed by the legislature, would cost $100 million in store remodelings.

Attempts to legalize Sunday carryout sales in recent years have been strongly opposed by the state’s powerful liquor store lobby, which fears the measure could increase costs without generating any additional revenue.

Big Red spokesman Matt Bell said the package-store chain now supports the Sunday alcohol sales bill, with the new restrictions proposed for grocery stores and other retailers.

Bell admitted that Sunday alcohol sales had long been opposed by his company, saying it could cost them $420,000, or about $8,000 per store. It also could force some stores out of business.

But he said the public policy gains make the change worth it.