Bill for Sunday alcohol sales still on the table


Bills concerning alcohol are being weeded out in the first few weeks of the Indiana General Assembly’s 2018 session.

Legislation in the House and Senate to allow Sunday liquor sales is moving though. Each chamber has a bill, which will be discussed next week. One of those bills must pass both chambers and be signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb to become law.

But legislation in the Senate to allow grocery and convenience stores to sell cold beer died in a Senate committee this week. The legislation would have been detrimental to package liquor stores, said State Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper.

Messmer sits on the Senate Public Policy Committee, which voted down the proposal 9 to 1 on Wednesday.

“About 75 years ago, after Prohibition, the state set the policy on how cold beer would get sold in the state, and we charge a premium licensing fee for that privilege,” he said. “Package liquor stores’ business model is based on that rule.

“If we changed that now, it would destroy those businesses,” he said. “There is nothing being considered now that could be done that would not decimate that industry.”

Package store owners presented financial data to the committee that showed the percentage of their revenue generated by cold beer sales. “For many, 50 to 60 percent of their sales is cold beer,” Messmer said. “If we changed that rule, those sales will decrease significantly, and there is no way for those companies to recover from that. It would make their license worth nothing.”

The leaders of the House and Senate said that the legislation is dead for this session, but said that it’s possible for a deal to come in future years.

“A lot of these things take some time,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. “Gradualism is a part of legislative achievement.”

Senate leader David Long, R-Fort Wayne added: “There are ways to solve this ... I think it can get done.”

Indiana is the only state that restricts which retailers can sell carryout cold beer.

A big push by other stores, in particular Marathon and Ricker’s convenience stores, has brought this matter to the public forefront, Messmer said.

“In the nine years prior to them doing this big push, I’d never been asked, ‘Why can’t I buy cold beer at convenience stores?’” he said. “I have been asked by a lot of people when can we make the change to Sunday sales.”

That change will likely come this year. The Senate Public Policy Committee has passed the Senate’s version of the bill to the full Senate, which will consider final passage on Monday. The House’s Public Policy Committee has also passed the House’s version to the full chamber.

“I don’t anticipate many no votes on this, though there will be some,” Messmer said. “We have legislators who will not vote for any policy pertaining to alcohol.”

The public policy committee was in unanimous agreement to pass the measure. “The total hearing lasted 20 minutes, because of the few people there, they had a simple message of support,” Messmer said. “There was one person who expressed concerns about the increase of the availability of alcohol. She brought up the social concerns she had. She steadily does that on any alcohol bill presented, to make sure we are aware of the social concerns.”

The organizations that have historically been at odds on the idea, the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, which represents liquor stores, and the Indiana Retail Council, announced in November that they had resolved their differences. The beverage association has always opposed Sunday carryout sales, stating that it would allow grocery stores to take business away from the liquor stores.

The agreement between the two is that the beverage association will not oppose Sunday sales, and the retail council will oppose any proposal allowing convenience and grocery stores to sell cold beer. Once that agreement happened, the idea of having Sunday liquor sales became achievable.

Legislature leaders said they agree that a bill allowing the sales will likely pass this session.

“I’m hopeful that we can put that one to bed and get it behind us and then move on,” Bosma said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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