House panel OKs much-revised Sunday alcohol sales bill

A proposal to lift Indiana's 80-year-old ban on Sunday carry-out alcohol sales is advancing to the full House for the first time ever after receiving committee approval Wednesday, but last-minute changes could hinder future support.

The House Public Policy Committee voted 10-2 in favor of the perennial bill.

But committee chairman and bill sponsor Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, proposed an amendment that would force grocery stores and pharmacies to follow the same regulations placed on liquor stores, specifically how alcoholic products can be sold.

The amendment calls for all retailers to keep beer and wine in one designated area of a store, with liquor stored behind the counter. All clerks would have to be 21 or older and have mandated training, and consumers would no longer be able to buy hard liquor through a self-service checkout.

Dermody said the changes would help regulate a dangerous substance, while also boosting consumer convenience.

Grocery chains, convenience stores and pharmacies have long supported allowing retail alcohols sales on Sunday, saying the statewide ban inconveniences consumers and costs the state millions of dollars in annual sales. Liquor store owners have opposed the move, saying lifting the ban would increase operating costs without generating additional revenue.

But the changes in Dermody's amendment prompted the groups to switch sides Wednesday.

Grant Monahan, president of the Indiana Retail Council, said the amendment was more of a "liquor store wish list" than a compromise and that the changes would be more burdensome than convenient for consumers.

"The amendment turns back the clock 40 years," Monahan said. "It doesn't fit in the modern 21st century retail store."

Representatives from the Walmart and Kroger chains said remodeling stores to meet the requirements would cost millions, and segregating liquor from other alcoholic products would create longer checkout lines.

Liquor store representatives, meanwhile, spoke up in support of the bill — and acknowledged doing so marked a change.

"It's an interesting day. We stand here to support Sunday sales," said Matt Bell, a spokesman for Big Red Liquors. Bell said acquiring additional overhead costs would cause some stores to close, but the gains in "excellent public policy" would make up for it.

The irony didn't go unnoticed.

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, who authored similar legislation two years ago, said the liquor lobby previously claimed 25 percent of their clients would go out of business if the ban was lifted.

"Now all of a sudden it's OK that we have Sunday sales because were putting in severe restrictions on their competition," he said.

Eberhart also co-authored the current bill, but voted against it after the amendment was added. He said the proposal has morphed into something it wasn't intended to be, and lawmakers should expect consumer backlash if it passes.

"This bill should've been all about customer convenience," he said. "Instead we're putting in additional restrictions and taking away the convenience that they expect when they do their shopping."

Indiana is the only state that does not allow Sunday retail sales of alcohol.

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