Indiana's decades-old ban on selling carryout alcohol on Sundays will soon be history after the Legislature signed off on a bill to repeal the Prohibition-era law.
The Senate voted 38-10 on Thursday to send the legislation to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who said he "won't let too many Sundays pass" before signing it into law.
"There's a pen on my desk," the Republican said hours before the vote. "When it arrives ... we will sign it."
The measure will take effect months before initially anticipated. That's because the bill was tweaked last week to make it effective immediately after being signed, instead of July 1. That means Indiana residents could be able to start purchasing alcohol at liquor stores, pharmacies, convenience stores and big box retailers as early as March 4.
After decades of failed attempts to rewrite the Sunday sales law, this year for the first time industry rivals who scuttled past efforts got on board. Republican Statehouse leaders also made the bill's passage a priority.
"I think it's symbolically important," said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, a Fort Wayne Republican. "We are modernizing our alcohol laws in a way that I think the public supports."
Still, the bill by Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, offers only a limited window of time to purchase alcohol on Sunday, restricting sales to between noon and 8 p.m.
Alting, who is chairman of a powerful committee that shapes alcohol laws, blamed interest groups for killing Sunday sales legislation in the past, saying it was not the fault of legislators who are elected to pass laws.
"The fact is, Sunday sales is convenient for the citizens in Indiana," said Alting, who has collected more campaign contributions from liquor store interests than any other lawmaker this decade, an Associated Press analysis of campaign finance data found last year.
The Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers long argued that Sunday sales would let grocery stores siphon away business on a major shopping day. But they gave way this year, focusing instead on preserving another unusual alcohol law that gives them a stranglehold on the sale of cold beer in the state.
They struck a deal with the Indiana Retail Council before the session started, agreeing to support Sunday sales in exchange for the Retail Council opposing legislation that would allow the big box stores they represent to sell cold beer.
However, the cold beer issue won't likely go away. A big part of the reason lawmakers took up Sunday sales this year is because of a bitter fight that erupted over the matter last year.
Convenience stores have long fought for the right to sell cold beer, instead of the room temperature beer and chilled wine they can currently sell.
Last year, Jay Ricker, the owner of Ricker's chain of convenience stores, used a creative loophole. He built kitchens in two stores and sold made-to-order burritos, which enabled him to get a restaurant license—and the ability to sell carryout cold beer.
That angered Republican legislative leaders, who took swift action in the closing days of the 2017 session to pass a law that effectively blocked Ricker from renewing a license allowing him to sell cold beer.
Public opinion not only supports the Sunday alcohol sales bill, it also favors allowing more stores to sell cold beer. Roughly 61 percent of Indiana residents think convenience and grocery stores should be able to sell cold beer, according to a recent Ball State University poll conducted by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs. That's more than the 58 percent of those surveyed who believed carryout alcohol sales should be allowed on Sunday.
Holcomb was coy when asked about whether he would support other measures addressing outmoded alcohol laws, like the cold beer restrictions.
"There's more work to be done," he said, adding that he would deal with those issues next session.
When asked if Sunday sales would pave the way, Alting replied: "Time will tell what cold beer does."