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December 2, 2012

Supporters of Sunday alcohol sales ready for another round

Local liquor store owners oppose proposal

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

They’re reintroducing legislation, shot down in the past, that would allow the purchase of carryout alcohol on Sundays and put an end to one 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 old Sunday-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 keep 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: That is, that Indiana residents can legally buy alcoholic drinks by the glass in a restaurant on Sundays, 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 — not including liquor stores — to buy a supplemental permit; the revenue from those supplemental permit sales would go toward enforcement of 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 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 hearing for it to 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.”

Though Boots is making the push for Sunday sales, some local liquor stores may push back.

Todd Antz, the owner of Keg Liquors in New Albany and Clarksville, said he doesn’t want to see Sunday sales legalized in the state because it could have adverse effects on liquor stores, even though they aren’t required to purchase the supplemental licenses mentioned in the new legislation.

“With the economy the way it is, the only winner here would be the big box stores,” Antz said. “There would be no gain in employment, none of our employees would get picked up by a Kroger or a Walmart or anyone like that.”

He said hiring additional staff, staffing the stores and the overhead are where costs could rise for business owners. He also said the state doesn’t stand to make much more money from the taxes, either.

“That’s always been the claim, that the state will make more tax money, and that’s just not the case,” Antz said. “There’s really no big incentive, it’s actually going to cost us money by being open that extra day.”

Rowena Knasle, owner of Bottles Unlimited in New Albany, also said she opposes the measure.

“I’d prefer to never open on Sunday,” Knasle said. “I don’t think you’d do that much on Sunday and everybody needs a day off anyway so they can spend it with their family, go to church or whatever they need to do. They have six other days to get it in. If it did, we’d have to open like everyone else.”

She also said opening one extra day could put extra strain on her business, as well.

The law also doesn’t affect microbreweries or farm wineries — like the New Albanian Brewing Co. or Huber’s Orchard, Winery and Vineyards — because they already have the legal ability to sell their products on Sundays.

“I’m not opposed to [Sunday sales], I think it should be all alcohol all the time, but I think it doesn’t have any effect on us,” said Roger Baylor, co-owner of NABC. “I don’t think it has much effect on the community, either. I believe it is inevitable whether it happens now or in the future and I don’t think it affects my business or the community much.”

— Staff Writer Jerod Clapp contributed to this story.

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