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December 1, 2012

Choosing booze: Intent of Indiana legislation is to strike down blue law

INDIANAPOLIS — Supporters of previous failed efforts to legalize Sunday alcohol sales in Indiana live by the motto of “try, try again.”

They’re re-introducing legislation, shot down in the past, that would allow the purchase of carryout alcohol on Sundays and that would put an end to one of the last “blue laws” on the books.

“I think there’s more support in the House and the Senate than we’ve ever had before, or ever realized,” said Grant Monahan, president of the Indiana Retail Council, which has backed previous, failed attempts to legalize Sunday sales.

State Sen. Phil Boots, a Crawfordsville Republican, has already filed a bill that he hopes will get a hearing when the Indiana General Assembly goes back into session in January.

Boots’ new bill is much like the Sunday-sales alcohol bill he filed last year that never got past the committee chairmen who act as legislative gatekeepers.

But in addition to doing away with the current ban on carryout alcohol sales in grocery and drug stores on Sunday, it would also loosen some restrictions on package liquor stores, whose owners have fought to maintain the Sunday ban.

Boots’ bill would allow package liquor stores to sell more food items, it would allow grocery and drug stores to sell cold beer, and it would allow adults to bring their children into liquor stores where they’re now banned if under 21. Boots said he’s heard some concerns about that last provision.

“I know some people have concerns about it, but I don’t see the issue,” Boots said.  “You can walk into a grocery store now and kids are allowed to walk down the same aisle that has alcohol beverages in it.”

Boots’ central argument for Sunday sales remains the same from past years: Indiana residents can legally buy alcoholic drinks by the glass in a restaurant on Sunday, but they can’t buy a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine or liquor in a store to take home to consume.

“In my opinion, that encourages you to drink and drive,” Boots said.

His legislation would require retailers that currently sell carryout alcohol to buy a supplemental permit, and the revenue from those supplemental permit sales would help enforce Indiana alcohol laws, Boots said.

Other states have some prohibitions on Sunday alcohol sales — some that allow beer and wine sales only — but Indiana is the last one in the nation that bans all sales of carryout alcohol on Sundays.

That lonesome status may not be enough to make a difference, though.

John Livengood, president of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, which represents many of the state’s liquor stores that oppose Sunday sales, said legislators support the current laws that are designed to control access to the availability of alcohol.

“I don’t think anything on the landscape has changed” since the last session, Livengood said.

Boots concedes he’s yet to win the support of the committee chairmen who’d have to schedule his bill for hearings, the step before it can advance to a vote.

One of those chairmen is state Rep. Bill Davis, a Republican from Portland who chairs the House Committee on Public Policy. Davis said that he hasn’t changed his view that Hoosiers have ample enough opportunity to buy alcohol six days a week and don’t need a seventh.  

“I’ll have to see the bill before I make up my mind,” Davis said. “But I don’t think I’ve changed my position.”

Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com

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