INDIANAPOLIS – With nary a word of discussion, the Senate Public Policy Committee approved for the first time a bill Wednesday allowing Sunday carryout sales in Indiana.
The decades-old debate has momentum this year and seems destined for success. Senate Bill 1 now moves to the full Senate.
Meanwhile, a House panel heard the same testimony on its own Sunday sales bill – House Bill 1051 – and a vote is expected next week.
The only real discussion seems to be about the hours that Sunday sales would be allowed.
Under current law, retailers such as grocery and drugstores can't sell carryout alcohol on Sundays. Both pieces of legislation would remove that prohibition but with limited hours of noon to 8 p.m. Breweries and wineries already sell carryout on Sunday and their rules and hours would not change.
Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, authored the House legislation and said he prefers a slow start to the new policy. Smaltz said the Legislature can increase the hours in the future if there is “no unforeseen social carnage from noon to 8.”
The most interesting exchange of the day came when Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, who unsuccessfully carried a Sunday sales bill several years ago. questioned the new alliance between the liquor store and grocery store associations.
Liquor stores have opposed the move for years since they aren't open on Sunday. Owners have long claimed that allowing grocers and other stores that already operate seven days a week to sell on Sunday will add overhead costs for liquor stores and cut into sales.
But the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers (liquor stores) and the Indiana Retail Council (groceries) joined forces on Sunday sales this year.
“We have evolved on the issue,” said Jon Sinder, co-owner of Crown Liquors and chair of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers.
He did concede some members will be negatively affected and “it's reasonable to expect” some will close.
Eberhart then questioned Grant Monahan of the Indiana Retail Council about whether part of the agreement with the liquor stores is to oppose any move to allow other retailers to sell cold beer. Right now that privilege is generally for liquor stores only.
Monahan admitted the group now opposes cold beer expansion, which he has supported in the past.
He said the two groups have battled literally for decades in the Indiana Statehouse but “times change. Coming together with the liquor stores was the right thing to do for both sides.”
That leaves out convenience stores who are pushing for cold beer sales. That bill will be heard in the Senate committee next week, but Smaltz said it won't be entertained in the House.