Prohibition died 82 years ago. Indiana’s maddening blue laws live on.
This was supposed to be the year that Indiana, the only state in the union where retailers can’t sell wine or beer on Sundays, put consumers first and allowed the purchase of beer, wine and spirits seven days a week.
A powerful coalition that included retailers, consumers and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce urged legislators to make the change, but public sentiment and common sense were no match for those who want Indiana to remain the outlier.
Citing a lack of votes to push the legislation through, its author pulled the bill before it could be considered by the full House.
Watching the once-promising bill unravel was a study in the kind of legislative tactics the public abhors but that lawmakers take for granted.
The bill, authored by Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, would have simply lifted the prohibition on Sunday sales, a change liquor stores have long opposed because of overhead costs associated with opening on Sundays and the fear of losing sales to convenience stores, grocers and big-box retailers.
The liquor store lobby fought the bill at every turn—until Dermody and his Public Policy Committee agreed to amend it in a way that drew the ire of the same retailers that had pushed for the bill, essentially killing it.
The amended bill would have required retailers, such as Kroger, Walmart and others that had supported the legislation, to change how they sell beer, wine and liquor every day of the week. Among the requirements was that they create designated areas for the sale of beer and wine and that hard liquor be dispensed from behind a counter.
Liquor stores were suddenly supportive of the bill. But the bill’s original advocates turned on it, citing the expense of remodeling stores to comply with the measure and the inconveniences it would cause consumers.
Protectors of the status quo got what they wanted: Hoosiers who don’t want state government telling them what they can buy when saw their losing streak extended.
The government’s intransigence on the issue continues only because consumers here have resigned themselves to not being able to buy beer, wine or alcohol on the second-biggest shopping day of the week. They can get a drink in a bar, but they can’t put a bottle in their grocery cart.
Hoosiers are forced to plan ahead for such purchases or drive to a neighboring state, a routine that costs the state millions in lost tax revenue every year.
Legislators, meanwhile, continue to let the issue fester. They excuse the state’s interference on moral grounds or they cite the need to protect one segment of the retail sector from another.
Next year they should streamline the rules so that they apply equally to all retailers seven days a week. Then get out of the way and let consumers buy when and where they choose.•
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