Olivia Covington for www.theindianalawyer.com
The Indiana House Public Policy Committee received overwhelming support for proposed legislation that would allow for Sunday carryout alcohol sales during testimony on Wednesday, with retailers from both the liquor store and big-box retailers supporting the measure.
Representatives from multiple chambers of commerce and retail associations spoke in favor of the Sunday sales bill, House Bill 1051, which was authored by committee chair Rep. Ben Smaltz. The bill would allow liquor, grocery, convenience and drug stores and restaurants to sell alcohol for carryout on Sundays from noon to 8 p.m., a change from Indiana’s current prohibition on all Sunday carryout sales.
Much of Wednesday’s testimony focused on the fact that Indiana’s border states offer Sunday alcohol sales, so Hoosier consumers have begun to request the same.
John Sinder, owner of Crown Liquors in Indianapolis and chair of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, said consumer feedback is what drove his organization to support Sunday sales this year, a shift from its opposition to similar legislation in years past. Similarly, Indiana Retail Council President Grant Monahan said Sunday is the second busiest shopping day of the week, and Indiana consumers want to be able to buy all of their groceries on one day in one location.
Monahan further pointed to studies that show Indiana losing roughly $12 million a year in sales and excise tax revenue due to its Sunday sales ban. That loss stems from Hoosiers crossing state lines to get around Indiana’s law.
“They’re taking their entire shopping list with them,” Monahan told the committee. “There’s a great deal of retail activity being lost in Indiana.”
Though Rep. Sean Eberhart has long advocated lifting the Prohibition-era ban on Sunday alcohol sales, he pushed Sinder and Monahan on their newfound agreement on the issue. The Shelbyville Republican noted that the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers had opposed his Sunday sales legislation in years past, so he questioned Sinder on why the organization’s position had changed.
Sinder maintained that times and legislative priorities change, while Monahan added that finding common ground on the Sunday sales issues could bring about an end to a longstanding legislative feud between liquor stores and big-box stores. However, Monahan also told Eberhart that the Indiana Retail Council will oppose proposed legislation that would expand cold beer sales beyond liquor stores.
Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, has filed cold beer expansion legislation, Senate Bill 26. The Senate Public Policy Committee will hear testimony on the bill at its Jan. 17 meeting.
The Association of Beverage Retailers and Indiana Retail Council announced a compromise on Sunday sales legislation in November, when the Alcohol Code Revisions Commission was assessing Indiana’s alcohol retail sales laws. Former Indiana Sen. Beverly Gard, who chaired the commission, said she was “bothered” by the announced compromise that came at a time when the commission was still hearing testimony and making recommendations.
Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, questioned Smaltz on the possibility of another agreement on alcohol-related legislation — one between the House and the Senate, which has also proposed a Sunday sales bill, SB 1. Smaltz, however, said the proposed legislation in both chambers was written to reflect the commission’s recommendations, not any sort of agreement between lawmakers. He also noted that Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, authored the commission’s recommendations and is the chair of the committee that will hear SB 1.
Aside from Sunday sales support from liquor and big-box stores, the Indiana and Indianapolis Chambers of Commerce, Distilled Spirits Council, Wine Institute and Kroger testified in support of HB 1051. Only Lisa Hutcheson, director of the Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking, came forward with concerns. She urged the General Assembly to begin collecting data on the number of underage sales, impaired driving incidents and other similar consequences for two years after the passage of Sunday sales legislation.
Like Hutcheson, Smaltz said he had concerns about the social impact of expanding alcohol sales. Thus, the limit on Sunday sales from noon to 8 p.m. was proposed as a way of controlling that social impact and easing the state into selling alcohol seven days a week, he said.
Smaltz did not call for a vote on HB 1051.
The Senate will consider its version of Sunday sales legislation Wednesday after Chief Justice Loretta Rush’s State of the Judiciary address. The Senate Public Policy Committee will hear testimony in the Senate Chamber, but like the House panel, is not expected to vote on the legislation.