INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana House committee said yes to Sunday alcohol sales, making it likely the popular measure will become law in the current legislative session.
House Bill 1051 passed the House Public Policy Committee Wednesday by a 12-1 vote. A week earlier, a similar piece of legislation, Senate Bill 1, passed a Senate committee by a unanimous vote.
Rep. Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola, cast the only no vote to HB 1051, saying the bill doesn’t align with his own legislative goals.
“My highest priority in this committee is to further the public interest in reducing abuse of alcohol,” Wesco said. “This bill doesn’t move that priority forward at all.”
Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, wanted to amend HB 1051 to allow alcohol sales for 12 hours instead of the proposed eight-hour period. The bill’s author and committee chairman, Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, refused.
Lisa Hutcheson, director of the Indiana Coalition to End Underage Drinking, told lawmakers to consider regulations that prevent minors from accessing alcohol. Photo by Emily Ketterer, TheStatehouseFile.com
As Sunday alcohol sales become more likely, signaling growth opportunities for the industry, other legislators expressed concern about how new sales on top of existing sales would be regulated.
Following several hearings held by the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission last fall, Smaltz also authored House Bill 1419 to address several areas of debate in the state’s alcohol industry
The bill offers a series of updates and revisions to existing rules regarding alcohol sales, such as the required licensing of all employees involved in the sale of alcoholic drinks and restricting the placement of alcoholic products to one area in groceries, convenience stores and pharmacies.
Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said HB 1419 will expand the alcohol industry, but fails to empower regulators.
“We cannot have a robust system of enforcement, of treatment, if we don’t give the people that we expect to do these things the tools,” Austin said.
Austin, who is worried about an understaffed and underfunded commission, defended House Bill 1181 — a measure that would increase the excise tax on alcohol sales to 25 percent to fund the ATC and drug and alcohol treatment courts. The last increase of this kind happened in 1981, she added. No hearing has been scheduled on Austin’s bill.
Beer, for example, is currently taxed at 11.5 cents per gallon. Increasing the tax would yield a 3-cent increase to the current rate, Austin said.
Austin also said the $12 million in revenue produced by the tax increase would give the ATC the proper information technology required to build accurate response plans.
Lisa Hutcheson, director of the Indiana Coalition to End Underage Drinking, who testified after HB 1051 was passed, said her organization would like more data to see how Sunday alcohol sales could affect underage drinking.
She also asked legislators to support certain rules in HB 1419, such as the required licensing of employees who sell alcohol.
“Evidence-based policies, to us, are even more important than ever in the current environment, which appears to support expansion of alcohol,” Hutcheson said. “Should Sunday sales pass, we urge you to make these safeguards effective.”
Lawmakers did not vote on HB 1419 and will review it again next Wednesday.
Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.