INDIANAPOLIS - Momentum continues to build at the Indiana Statehouse toward legalizing Sunday alcohol sales.
On Wednesday, members of the House and Senate Public Policy Committees heard testimony on identical bills that would make it legal for stores to sell carryout alcoholic beverages between noon and 8 p.m. on Sundays.
In the Senate, the Public Policy Committee voted 9 - 0 in favor of passing SB 0001. The bill now moves to the full Senate, likely early next week, for a second reading.
The author of HB 1051 and chair of the House Public Policy Committee, Rep. Ben Smaltz (R-Auburn), said he doesn’t want to get over confident. But, he’s pleased with the way discussions are proceeding.
“We’ve done our homework, we’ve done what we were supposed to do,” Smaltz said. “We worked on it all Fall, and think we’ll have the support of the committee.”
Support for Sunday sales was bolstered late last year following an agreement between the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers and the Indiana Retail Council.
The two groups have sparred for years over the issue of Sunday sales, but the organizations announced in November they had reached common ground and would support current plans to legalize Sunday sales.
November was also when a legislative panel working to revise Indiana’s alcohol laws voted in favor of a proposal to allow Sunday sales between noon and 8 p.m. on Sundays.
The agreement represented a position reversal for the Beverage Retailers Association. The Association’s chair, Jon Singer, testified in the House Chamber on Wednesday.
“Often times people think, or people state things change,” Sinder testified. “But things do change. We have evolved on this issue.”
Sinder added that liquor store customers have expressed support for Sunday sales, but he also expressed concern for smaller liquor stores that may not have the inventory, staff or volume to support Sunday sales.
Indiana Retail Council President Grant Monahan testified that the time had come for Indiana to allow Sunday sales for the benefit of Hoosiers and stores that sell alcohol.
“Sunday is the second busiest shopping day of the week,” Monahan testified. “Time-starved Hoosiers who are doing their grocery shopping on Sunday want the ability to purchase all of their groceries at one time.”
Monahan also said Indiana loses at least $12 million a year because of customers who cross state borders to buy alcohol on Sunday.
“And when people do that, they’re not just buying a case of beer and coming home,” Monahan said. “They’re taking their entire shopping list with them.”
Even as support for Sunday sales increases, the Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking expressed concerns about the bill’s current language.
The coalition’s director, Lisa Hutcheson testified in the House Chamber Wednesday.
“Any time you expand alcohol hours and days of sale, you will increase access to minors,” Hutcheson said.
The coalition on underage drinking wants lawmakers to make several additions to the bill before passing it. They want language to include an increase in the state’s alcohol tax, requirements that clerks who sell alcohol will be 21 or older, with specific training on spotting fake IDs, and assurances that alcohol will be separated from other products in stores.
Rep. Smaltz believes his bill will be called up for another hearing and possible committee vote on Wednesday next week.
Meantime, a bill to allow big box stores, convenience stores and pharmacies to sell cold beer does not have such widening support. However, Senate Public Police Committee chair, Senator Ron Alting, has promised the bill will receive a hearing and vote during this legislative session.
The Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers issued this statement:
“It is time for Sunday sales. Today’s committee hearings were a significant step forward in the legislative process that we hope will end with Hoosiers being able to purchase alcohol for carryout on Sundays for the first time since prohibition without compromising on safety. We are eager to continue working directly with legislators and policy makers as these landmark pieces of legislation continue to move forward without delay.”