It's not exactly a barroom brawl, but the fight over Sunday alcohol sales has unleashed a war of words over what's best for Hoosiers.
At a Dec. 7 press conference, a group calling itself the Alliance of Responsible Alcohol Retailers announced its support for another round of legislation that would allow retailers – including gas stations and big-box stores like Target – to sell cold beer and alcohol on Sundays.
At that same Statehouse press conference, state Sen. Phil Boots said he'll introduce in the 2012 session what he called "common sense" legislation that would remove Indiana from its lonely position as one of only two states that ban retailers from selling booze on Sundays, but allows restaurants, taverns and sports venues to sell it by the glass.
"It doesn't make sense to let people go into a restaurant to drink and then drive home, but not to allow them to buy it at a store and take it home to drink," said the Crawfordsville Republican.
Though similar legislation has failed in the past, Boots said this time around it will be seen as a "slam-dunk public policy issue." On his side is the influential Indiana Retail Council, which has aligned itself with the pro-Sunday-sales Alliance of Responsible Alcohol Retailers.
But before the press conference was even over, the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers – which backs an effort called Project Responsible Alcohol Distribution – issued a press release predicting such legislation would fall flat.
"There is nothing new about today's announcement," said association President John Livengood, who represents Indiana liquor-store owners who oppose Sunday sales. "This legislative initiative by the big-box chain stores and gas stations delivered during the holidays is like re-gifting a four-year-old fruitcake; it's something that's been around for years and nobody wants it."
But apparently some people do. Rep. Cindy Noe, an Indianapolis Republican who will sponsor the Sunday-sales legislation in the House, said her constituents routinely complain to her that they can't pick up a six-pack of beer on a Sunday to share over an Indianapolis Colts game or buy of bottle of wine for Sunday dinner. "It's inconvenient," said Noe. "It's not what consumers want."
And the organization that backs Sunday sales cites its online petition, posted on a Website called ChangeitIndiana.org, that has 53,000 signatures of people who want Indiana alcohol laws to change. Livengood said that number represents less than one percent of Hoosiers and he questioned whether those signatures belonged to Indiana residents of legal drinking age.
One tactic that's different from past years where similar legislation has failed is that cold beer will be separated from hard liquor. Boots and Noe plan to introduce two pieces of legislation when the legislature goes back into session Jan. 4. One bill would legalize carry-out alcohol sales on Sunday; the other would allow grocery, drug, convenience and big-box stores to start selling cold beer, as long as it's Indiana brewed.
Indiana's current law allows only Indiana-owned liquor stores to sell cold beer, which helps explain one of buttons that was distributed at the press conference by cold-beer bill backers which says: "End the Cold Beer Monopoly."
Noe and Boots both said their bills are economic development tools, that would allow Indiana retailers to make more sales and more money that would lead to more jobs and more tax revenues. They cited studies that Indiana loses approximately $9 million in tax revenues annually to neighboring border states because of its ban on Sunday alcohol sales. Livengood cited another study that said the revenue impact would be minimal, since consumers would just be shifting their alcohol purchases from other days of the week.
Maureen Hayden is the Statehouse bureau chief for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org