Lawmakers ramp up debate on Sunday alcohol sales

Politics
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INDIANAPOLIS – Should Indiana grocery stores be allowed to sell alcohol on Sundays?

Some state lawmakers say it’s about time.

This week, House committee members did something they’ve never done before—hearing a bill that would legalize Sunday alcohol sales at stores across Indiana.

Two bills introduced during the current legislative session would change the law that restricts Sunday sales to restaurants, bars, breweries and wineries.

The House Public Policy Committee met Wednesday to discuss the measure introduced in the House, HB 1146.

“Feelings about this particular issue have changed,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville. “I’ve heard from many people about how outdated this particular law is.”

“I started in ’73 here at the Statehouse, and we were debating Sunday sales and cold beer in grocery stores back then,” said Joe Lackey, president of the Indiana Grocery & Convenience Stores Association.

Lawmakers point to the possibility for increased sales and more tax revenue for the state.

Many grocery stores and chains support lifting the ban. After all, Sunday is the second-largest shopping day of the week and allowing liquor sales would provide a boost to those retailers.

Most liquor stores, on the other hand, don’t support the change. They’d have to pay to staff their stores on Sunday—something they don’t currently have to do. Liquor stores are afraid the extra day would essentially spread out six days in sales over seven days—while they face stiffer competition from grocery stores who can also sell alcohol on Sundays.

Religious leaders and addiction counselors also voiced their opposition to the bill at Wednesday’s hearing.

“We’re more concerned with what would be the potential ramification for underage drinking, and for those already in the throes of addiction or binge drinking,” said Randy Miller of Drug Free Marion County.

But lobbyists representing the state’s grocers and retailers disagree.

“Honestly, what is wrong with allowing retailers to sell for carryout on the seventh day of the week, the way they do six days a week?” asked Grant Monahan, president of the Indiana Retail Council. “That’s all it’s about.”

“This isn’t reinventing the wheel. This is simply removing a silly and outdated blue law from our books,” said Eberhart. “If we can take a vote in committee, I think it has a good chance to pass.”

The chair of the Public Policy Committee said he wasn’t sure if the measure would come to a vote.

“We have not made that decision yet,” said State Rep. Bill Davis, R-Portland, chair of the committee. “We heard discussion on both sides. We’ll talk to committee members and see how people feel about it, but we haven’t decided whether we’re going to move it forward.”

Lawmakers have shown signs of loosening such restrictions. In 2010, they approved a bill allowing microbreweries to sell carryout beer on Sundays.

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