By Adrianna Pitrelli
INDIANAPOLIS —The Alcohol Code Revision Commission agreed Tuesday that Indiana lawmakers should allow alcohol sales on Sunday, but will wait until next month to work out the details in proposed legislation.
“Sixty-eight percent of people in Indiana want cold beer to be sold in convenient stores and grocery stores,” Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, said. “We should do what’s right for the state of Indiana.”
Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville. Photo by Dustin Beach, TheStatehouseFile.com
The commission’s agenda covered the selling of cold beer and Sunday alcohol sales, and agreed Sunday sales should be allowed. Members are still split on who should be able to sell cold six-packs of beer.
The commission has been meeting throughout the fall to prepare for the 2018 legislative session. Lawmakers earlier this year decided a review of the state’s alcohol laws was needed after a controversy arose over the sale of cold beer.
Convenience store owner Jay Ricker got around the cold beer ban by turning some of his locations into restaurants and then getting a liquor license. Lawmakers banned that tactic but agreed that the state’s alcohol control laws needed to be updated.
The commission reviewed bills proposing Sunday sales. One of them would allow liquor, grocery and convenience stores to sell alcohol from noon until 8 p.m.
Final versions of proposed legislation will be included in the commission’s report. The commission’s recommendations, to be voted on next month, will go to the General Assembly in January to be further discussed and possibly voted on. If any of the proposed legislation becomes law, none is expected to take effect until July 2019.
Indiana is the only state that regulates beer sales based on temperature and only one of nine restricting or prohibiting Sunday alcohol sales, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores.
Boots doesn’t sit on the committee, but he’s been to nearly every meeting because he strongly supports Sunday alcohol sales and the purchase of cold beer in convenience and grocery stores.
“Sunday is the second busiest shopping day of the week,” Boots said. “Every other state around us sells alcohol on Sunday so we lose sales tax and revenue by not selling on Sundays.”
Boots proposed creating a supplemental license for stores that want to sell on Sundays. It would be a one-day addition to the current six-day license, which Boots said would amount to a $2.3 million increase in revenues.
Commission member Keith Byers agreed Sunday alcohol sales should be permitted.
“I’ve heard nothing that convinces me that Sunday sales is going to add any more alcohol abuse or underage drinking,” Byers said. “To me, it’s a free market issue.”
Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, was the most outspoken against Sunday sales.
“If we allow cold beer sales on Sundays, I can see family-owned liquor stores going out of business,” he said. “I’m not particularly religious, but beer and religion don’t equate.”
The other issue raised, the sale of cold beer in venues other than package liquor stores, was the subject of more debate among the members of the commission.
“There is no difference between buying a cold beer in a package store and buying a cold beer in a convenient store,” Boots said. “If you are able to sell it responsibility, you should be able to sell it rather if it is warm or cold.”
Byers disagreed, saying the only people who should be able to sell it cold are those who already have a permit to do so.
“There is only one reason to have cold beer in a gas station,” Byers said. “You’re going to go in and buy is then go to your car and open it up.”
The meeting followed an announcement late last week from the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers and the Indiana Retail Council that they agreed to put aside past differences and support Sunday alcohol sales. They also agreed to unite in opposition to cold beer sales outside of a package liquor store.
Previously, liquor stores said they would support Sunday sales if there were restrictions, like building walled-off areas to put the alcohol for sale. But under the agreement announced Friday, they would no longer advocate for those restrictions. Rather, liquor stores will have support from big-box stores to block the expansion of cold beer sales in places like gas stations.
The commission has two more scheduled meetings prior to the start of the 2018 legislative session and 20 alcohol-related draft legislation under consideration. They include requiring everyone to be carded when purchasing alcohol and allowing minors in a liquor store with a parent or guardian. The next meeting is Dec. 1.
Adrianna Pitrelli is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.