EDITORIAL: Booze bill is a small step for Sunday sales

January 16, 2010

More than once, we have used this space to rail against legislation that would further restrict alcohol sales in Indiana. The last thing a state with arcane liquor laws needs is more arcane liquor laws. So we are happy to be patting lawmakers on the back for advancing a measure that would begin to ease the onerous limitations on when Hoosiers can buy booze. Or craft beer, anyway.

On Jan. 13, the Senate Public Policy Committee voted 9-2 to advance Senate Bill 120, which would allow microbreweries to sell their own beer for carryout on Sundays. The measure now heads to the full Senate.

Here’s hoping we can toast its passage soon.

Unfortunately, that’s anything but certain. Some lawmakers have expressed concern over the legislation, saying they’re worried the bill could be amended to allow widespread Sunday carryout sales. Even Sen. Ron Alting, who authored the bill and chairs the committee that passed it, vowed to kill the measure if such amendments materialize.

So now we’re back to railing against alcohol sales restrictions. But let’s focus on the microbrewery bill first.

Proponents say the measure isn’t an effort to expand Sunday sales. Rather, it’s an attempt to achieve parity between microbreweries and farm wineries—which are allowed to sell their products for takeout seven days a week.

Craft brewers are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting day-trippers to their production facilities on Sundays, they point out, since visitors can’t end brewery tours by taking home a drinkable souvenir.

“It’s killing us,” Brewers Guild of Indiana President Ted Miller told IBJ last month. “We can’t effectively market our tours on Sundays if we can’t sell beer.”

The disparity doesn’t make a lick of sense. Why would it be OK to buy carryout wine on Sundays but not carryout beer? Anyone? We think it’s telling that opponents of the microbrewery bill haven’t offered up criticism of the bill itself—just what could possibly be added to it someday.

Which brings us back to the Sunday sales ban. We will give the legislators of yore the benefit of the doubt on that and assume that it made sense once upon a time. But no more. Today’s lawmakers have no business legislating morality. If that’s even the issue. Such blue laws may have originated when Puritan colonists banned activities they considered to be immoral on Sundays, but the laws have survived thanks to modern-day self-interest.

Liquor store owners are among the most vocal opponents of a repeal of the Sunday sales ban, saying the added expense of being open an extra day would offset any additional sales revenue. And if they opted to stay closed, consumers would find somewhere else to buy their spirits.

Welcome to the free-market economy. If retailers don’t want to sell alcohol on Sundays, that’s their prerogative. The same should be true for those who see a demand and want to meet it. But it should be a business decision, not a legislative one.•


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