Olivia Covington for www.theindianalawyer.com
For the first time in Indiana history, a Senate committee has approved a bill allowing Sunday alcohol sales, moving the measure to the full Senate.
The Senate Public Policy Committee passed Senate Bill 1 on Wednesday with a 9-0 vote. The vote came after brief testimony from the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, Indiana Retail Council and other industry organizations, as well as multiple chambers of commerce, who each spoke in support of the bill. The testimony closely mirrored that heard earlier Wednesday by the House Public Policy Committee on its version of a Sunday sales bill, House Bill 1051. However, the House panel did not call a vote on its legislation.
“It is time for Sunday sales,” Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers chair Jon Sinder said in a statement after Wednesday’s testimony. “Today’s committee hearings were a significant step forward in the legislative process that we hope will end with Hoosiers being able to purchase alcohol for carryout on Sundays for the first time since Prohibition without compromising on safety.”
Both the House and Senate versions of the Sunday sales legislation would allow liquor, grocery, convenience and drug stores and restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages for carryout from noon to 8 p.m. on Sundays. The legislation is based on recommendations from the Alcohol Code Revisions Commission, which recent months studying Indiana’s retail alcohol sales laws.
Sen. Ron Alting, who chairs the Public Policy Committee, served on the alcohol commission and authored SB 1. Prior to beginning Wednesday’s hearing, he told his fellow committee members that he was confident in SB 1 because it had something that similar legislation in years past did not – simplicity.
While previous Sunday sales bills have restricted the placement of alcohol in stores and clerk qualifications, SB 1 simply allows retailers that already sell alcohol six days a week to add a seventh day, he said. However, testimony from the Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking urged the General Assembly to create requirements for store placement and clerk training.
Aside from a handful of questions for the witnesses who testified on SB 1, there was no committee discussion on the measure. Speaking to reporters after the unanimous vote, Alting said his bill’s success was largely a matter of timing.
“It’s never been offered in the Senate because if it gets killed over in the House of Representatives and doesn’t even have a chance, why would I waste taxpayer dollars drafting it, going through all the motions, knowing that it has no sky to look at whatsoever,” Alting said. “So I think the difference was the timing was ready.”
The Lafayette Republican also credited the compromise between the Association of Beverage Retailers and Indiana Retail Council for SB 1’s passage. Previously, the IABR and liquor stores had opposed Sunday alcohol sales out of fear of losing business, but the organization reached a compromise with the Indiana Retail Council last fall that Alting said allowed the measure to move forward.
“They’ve come together and smoked the peace pipe and everything seems to be in agreement with them,” Alting said. “So you notice there’s no one fighting it in the halls, there’s no one fighting it in here, there’s really no big strong opposition to it. It just shows you what can happen on good positive legislation if everyone works together.”
However, the compromise between the liquor and big box stores associations could signal defeat for Senate Bill 26, a measure that would expand cold beer sales beyond liquor stores. Alting’s committee will hear SB 26 during its meeting on Jan. 17, and he said after Wednesday’s vote that he would not try to push SB 1 through the Senate until the cold beer legislation had been given full committee consideration.
When it does come time for a Senate vote on SB 1, Alting said he expects the bill to pass the full chamber with the same ease as it did in committee, assuming the bill is “kept clean” and is free of amendments that would add “controversial matters” to the legislation.
The Public Policy Committee will consider SB 26, authored by Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, at noon Jan. 17 in the Senate chamber.