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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, November 14, 2017 6:00 pm

State panel supports Sunday carryout alcohol sales

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS - Hoosiers are one step closer to being able to buy alcohol for carryout on Sunday after a state panel voted Tuesday to recommend the change to the legislature.

"I've heard nothing that convinces me that Sunday sales is going to add to any more alcohol abuse or underage drinking," said Keith Byers, a member of the Alcohol Code Revision Commission from Fort Wayne. "To me it's a free market issue."

The group is a mix of state lawmakers and community members. A vote on a final report still must pass in a few weeks but members are working on other possible changes.

The preliminary Sunday sales bill that was approved would allow all eligible retailers to sell beer, wine and liquor for carryout on Sundays between noon and 8 p.m.

For years Sunday sales has been a bitter fight between liquor stores that are closed on Sundays and other retailers that have seven-day-a-week models. Chairwoman Beverly Gard said the limitation of eight hours on Sunday is a nod to liquor stores so they only have to find staffing for one shift.

Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, who will most likely carry the bill in the House, said the limit will likely gain a few votes on a perennially close issue.

"It would be very difficult to shepherd this through wide open," he said. "That sounds like a pretty big stone to carry up a hill."

The majority of Tuesday's meeting was spent airing conflicting views on expanding cold beer sales.

A preliminary bill draft would have allowed drug, grocery and convenience stores to sell cold beer from 7:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. on Sundays. They could continue selling warm beer and other alcohol during other hours.

Liquor stores - generally the only retailer allowed now to sell cold beer for carryout - would maintain later hours, selling until 3 a.m. Monday through Saturday and the same hours on Sundays.

Sen. Eric Bassler, R-Washington, said the legislature has created a near-monopoly on cold beer for liquor stores and "I don't think it's justification enough to maintain that because it's the way it's always been."

No other states regulate beer differently depending on temperature. And several in support also pointed out there would be no proliferation of retail outlets because convenience stores and groceries are already selling warm beer. There are also quota systems on licenses. 

But Byers said the "only one reason to buy a cold beer in a gas station...is to open it up when you get to your car."

The limited hours for one cold beer retailer versus another seemed to complicate the issue and several members asked for more time to review the proposal before voting at the next meeting Dec. 1.

Others, though, wanted an up-or-down vote on the overall idea of expanding cold beer sales before getting down to details. The discussion was animated and went on for more than four hours.

Commission member William Boklund, a judge, said the obvious option would be to "take a blow torch" and blow up the entire system of alcohol regulations in Indiana but "that would be total chaos and there would be rioting in the street."

Other topics that are still up in the air include whether Indiana should return to mandatory carding for everyone buying carryout alcohol. The state adopted the policy in 2010 and Hoosiers bombarded lawmakers with complaints. It was repealed in 2011 even though it was very effective at reducing underage drinking.

Since then some retailers have adopted universal carding as policy.

Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, called the mandatory carding law a disaster and said he won't support it.

Another preliminary draft would require all clerks who sell carryout alcohol to be at least 21. That is the minimum age for liquor stores but not other retailers. Some also suggest that stores separate alcohol to one defined area instead of spreading it about.

nkelly@jg.net