Sunday alcohol sales bill could take effect sooner than expected

Indiana residents might be able to buy carryout alcohol on Sundays sooner than first expected after a House panel voted Wednesday to move up the effective date of a bill that would overturn the state's Prohibition-era ban on such sales.

The House Public Policy Committee voted 9-1 in favor of a change that would make the measure take effect immediately instead of July 1, should the measure be signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

"I can't really come up with anything why we wouldn't allow Hoosiers to do what we're going to allow them to do on July 1," said committee Chairman Ben Smaltz, an Auburn Republican.

Republican Statehouse leaders have made Sunday alcohol sales a top priority this year after decades of debate and failed efforts to modernize the state's liquor laws.

The House and Senate both approved separate bills that would allow stores to sell carryout alcohol on Sunday between noon and 8 p.m. However, neither chamber has given final approval to either of the bills.

The Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers and the Indiana Retail Council both support the change made Wednesday. Last year, the two associations resolved longstanding differences that previously led lawmakers to give up on efforts to overturn the current law.

The liquor store lobby initially argued that carryout Sunday alcohol sales would allow grocery stores to siphon away business on a major shopping day. But they threw their support behind this year's Sunday sales bill after the retailers association agreed to oppose a separate measure that would have allowed convenience stores, pharmacies and big box retailers to sell cold beer.

That right is primarily enjoyed by liquor stores, who have fought fiercely to keep it that way while donating generously to lawmakers' campaign funds.

The Sunday sales measure isn't entirely without opposition. Lisa Hutcheson, director of the Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking, said she would like to see safeguards aimed at preventing minors from obtaining alcohol to be put in place quicker.

The safeguards include mandatory training for clerks who sell alcohol, a requirement that anyone selling alcohol be at least 21 years old, and a provision that would require stores to keep all alcohol in one designated area. Those provisions are included in separate legislation and would take effect in either 2019 or 2020, Hutcheson said.

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