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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Annual Try for Sunday Alcohol

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
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The Indiana General Assembly has more than 1,000 bills that have been filed this session. We’re early in the process of consideration; many discussions, debates, hearings and votes will happen between now and the conclusion of the session in late April.

The experts are busy picking which bills they think will live or die this next month. Issues like road funding, the budget, pre-K expansion, our schools and workforce development are dominating the early discussion.

A couple of others may be of interest as the session progresses. Senate Bill 352, designating the red fox the state’s official mammal? How about House Bill 1109, designating the Say’s firefly as the state’s official insect? Or Senate Bill 470, designating the milkweed flower as the state’s official wildflower? What about Senate Bill 81, allowing grocery and drugstores to sell cold beer for carryout and for stores to sell alcohol on Sundays?

Which do you think are more likely to survive? I’m betting on the fox, the firefly or the wildflower and against the Sunday sales bill, which never seems to make much progress despite its annual recurrence.

Two things happen at this time of year, every year. The groundhog emerges from its hole to make a weather prediction and the General Assembly considers whether this is the year to consider Sunday sales. Each year the groundhog goes back into its hole as does the bill on Sunday sales, not to be heard again until the following year. Will this year be different?

Early indications were that we wouldn’t see much action on Sunday sales this year. However, just last week it began gaining some attention. The Senate Rules Committee may take up the matter in Senate Bill 81. Or it may not. No senators from our region sit on that committee.

“Blue laws” were where Sunday limitations originated, primarily for religious reasons. The fight these days is less about religion and more about disagreements between retailers and package liquor stores. Retailers want the ban repealed; package liquor stores think Sunday sales would unfairly benefit retailers. Rarely is the convenience of customers a consideration in the debate.

You currently can buy beer, wine and liquor at bars and restaurants on Sundays but not to carry out of a store. Retailers want the right to sell and claim it’s all about customer convenience. Liquor stores, which are closed on Sundays, have fought the move for fear it will cost them too much to compete and in the end really change how the alcohol/liquor market operates.

I do think some legislators are growing tired of the annual argument and are anxious to bring resolution to the issue once and for all. Leaders in the House and the Senate have hinted it’s time to move this debate forward. The challenge may be with other language getting attached to the original bill. In the past that ultimately has derailed progress for any bill. Each amendment generates new opposition to a proposed bill.

Indiana is currently losing the battle to attract young talent. Laws like this Prohibition-era restriction only tell those considering our state that we are not very progressive. Prohibition ended in 1933. Only a handful of states still limit Sunday sales like Indiana.

Indiana has recognized the need to stem the outmigration of talent and has initiated programs like Regional Cities to improve the quality of place and aid in attracting young people to Indiana. Legislators need to take another step and show young people Indiana can be progressive by moving out of the Prohibition era on this issue.

Also Published in the South Bend Tribune