Sunday alcohol sales backers make final push

A proposed law that would allow grocery stores in Indiana to sell cold beer and alcohol on Sundays appears to have fizzled in the Legislature this year.

But proponents of the legislation will make a last-ditch push this week to get similar language into another alcohol-related bill that still remains viable.

“There’s still time for us to do something,” said Grant Monahan, president of the Indiana Retail Council, which has backed the bill. “We continue to talk to legislators and seek support.”

Opponents of the bill from the state’s liquor-store lobby say it’s unlikely the General Assembly would take on the dicey issue during the second-to-last week of the session, when lawmakers already are grappling with big issues such as passing a state budget and new maps for voting districts.

Nonetheless, they're remaining vigilant.

“I never stop worrying until [the legislators] go home,” said John Livengood, president of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers. “We’re watching it very closely.” 

Both House and Senate versions of the bill, which also would extend the Sunday and cold-beer sales rights to drug and convenience stores, failed to get a hearing in their respective committees. That makes them ineligible for consideration in conference committee – the last phase of the legislative process – next week. But it’s possible they could be amended into another bill this week.

Among the alcohol-related bills remaining are House and Senate versions of a bill that would undo a policy requiring cashiers to ask every person buying alcohol for identification, regardless of age. Different versions of the bill would require carding only those who look younger than 40 or 50.

Even without such Sunday and cold-beer sales laws passing, Livengood said his members remain concerned about what they have seen as an erosion of market share the last several years. Grocery stores with pharmacies have been permitted to sell liquor openly – rather than behind pharmacy counters – for a few decades. For the last few years, gas stations, like grocery stores, have been able to sell beer and wine.

Those in the liquor store industry say further loosening the restrictions – as groups such as Monahan’s have been pushing for the last two years – would be a final hit that would threaten many stores’ viability.

“Sunday sales would be a big blow, and it would lead eventually to the cold beer issue being successful,” Livengood said. “In this state, cold beer has been one of the things that has kept the package store industry alive. There’s no question in my mind that one would be a killer.”

But Monahan said when other states passed Sunday sales laws in recent years there has been an increase in the number of liquor stores operating. He argued the laws allowing Sunday sales and cold beer sales have “overwhelming consumer support” and that government shouldn’t impose regulations that determine which operations are successful.

Livengood and others say alcohol – because of its potential dangers – should be more heavily regulated than traditional consumer products.

If they’re unsuccessful this week, Monahan said his group will be back next year to push the cause again.

What’s unclear at this point is whether they will tackle the issue of cold beer sales and Sunday sales separately or as a package deal, as they did this session. Monahan said that’s something the coalition of backers for the laws needs to review, should they lose this legislative fight.

He is hopeful, though, that the issue will get traction eventually.

“These are controversial issues for Indiana,” Monahan said. “Controversial issues take time to percolate.”

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