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Hot-Button Issues: Chorus of Booze
Will Indiana finally fall off the wagon and allow Sunday alcohol sales?
Editor’s Note: From gay marriage to Glenda Ritz, Obamacare to Sunday booze, we’re presenting 10 topics that Hoosiers will be fired up about this year—and what you need to know before jumping into heated cocktail-party discussions.
Only a small number of states prohibit the retail sale of packaged alcoholic beverages on Sunday while also allowing it to be served at bars, restaurants, and events. Spoiler alert: Indiana is one of them. That glass is either half empty or half full, depending on your point of view. Consumers hankering to pick up a six-pack or a bottle of wine while grocery shopping on the Sabbath find the Prohibition-era stricture annoying—and grocers, drugstores, big-box retailers, and convenience stores are eager for the chance to accommodate them. On the other hand, a cocktail of groups whose concerns range from religion to public health to driver safety hold the conviction that the drier Indiana is, the better off we are.
Paradoxically, though, the strongest opponents of Sunday sales are business owners who make their money selling booze, the idea being that the overhead of staying open another day would make it even harder to compete, and that shoppers able to buy Cabernet at Costco on Sunday could skip the neighborhood liquor store the rest of the week. “They continue to try to erode public policy, with zero regard for temperance or selling alcohol responsibly,” Patrick Tamm, a lobbyist for liquor-store owners, says of efforts to overturn the blue law. “They want to make selling it as easy as selling peanut butter.” The position has made for strange bedfellows: In the General Assembly, one of the most reliable allies of the liquor-store owners’ well-connected industry group, the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, has been Rep. Bill Davis, an avowed teetotaler.
The IABR has managed to hold back Sunday sales for years, but the dam could be breaking. In last year’s session, House Bill 1146 got a hearing in committee, the first time ever for a proposal to lift the Sunday ban. But then Davis, the committee chair, refused to bring it up for a vote—a real buzzkill for the Indiana Retail Council, which backed the legislation. But the IRC is not ready to say when, particularly since Davis—who once called alcohol “the most abused drug in our state—recently retired from his House seat.
Grant Monahan, longtime lobbyist for the IRC, which represents such shopping titans as Kroger, Meijer, and Walmart … Tamm of the IABR, who took over for influential lobbyist John Livengood upon his retirement last year (although Livengood is still helping as a consultant) … New House Public Policy Committee Chairman Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, who has replaced the outgoing Davis, and Dermody’s counterpart in the Senate, Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, who has blocked efforts to overturn the Sunday ban … Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, and Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, who both authored Sunday-sales bills last year and are expected to do so again.
Players: (l-r) Tamm, Davis, Alting
When It Will Go Down
Before the General Assembly session got underway, bills lifting the prohibition on Sunday sales were expected in January. But as the current session wears on, passage of a bill lifting the Sunday ban looks increasingly unlikely.
The Upper Hand
Sunday shoppers. The IRC’s efforts to chip away at Indiana’s blue laws are finally getting traction. “The longer legislators hear about this issue, the more comfortable they become with it,” says Monahan. With Davis no longer holding the keys in the House, it’s likely only a matter of time.
Cold Beer Here?
Grocers and convenience stores have taken their fight against another Indiana blue law out of the hands of the General Assembly altogether. Last year, they challenged liquor-store owners’ monopoly on selling cold beer—another jealously guarded perk—in federal court, and the case was pending at press time.