Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

January 24, 2012

Sunday alcohol sales unlikely

Maureen Hayden
The Herald-Tribune

-- — Depending on what happens in the Sunday-dry state of Connecticut, Indiana could soon become the last state in the nation with a Sunday ban on alcohol sales.

Legislative leaders in the Indiana General Assembly have decided against scheduling committee hearings on a bill that would have lifted the decades-old prohibition on the Sunday sale of alcohol for off-premise consumption.

Their decision effectively kills the bill.

“Surely we can buy enough alcohol in this state six days a week that we don't need a seventh day to do it,” said state Rep. Bill Davis, the Republican chair of House Committee on Public Policy where the bill had been assigned.

Indiana residents can legally buy a drink by the glass in a restaurant on Sunday; but they can't a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine or liquor in a store.

While the push for Sunday alcohol retail sales in Indiana is over, it's surging in Connecticut, where Gov. Dannel Malloy announced late last week his push to legalize Sunday liquor sales in his state.

Malloy said the state's tax revenues could go up by $11 million annually if the Connecticut legislature legalizes liquor sales on Sundays and holidays.

If Malloy gets what he wants, Indiana would be the only state that forbids retailers from selling booze on Sundays. Last fall, Georgia – one of the last remaining Sunday-dry states – rolled back the ban in most communities through local referendum votes.

In Indiana, the Republican committee chairs who have sole authority on whether to schedule a bill for  a hearing and vote, were under pressure to move legislation that's been stalled in the General Assembly for several years. 

The Republican  legislators who were carrying the legislation had made the pitch that Sunday sales fit into the economy-boosting, job-creating agenda that GOP leaders had promised to deliver in the 2012 session.

“I'm not convinced that it is,” Davis said Wednesday.

At a press conference last fall, influential state Sen. Phil Boots of Crawfordsville, who carried the bill in the Senate, predicted the legislation would be seen as a “slam-dunk public policy issue.”

He had to roll back that prediction last week when he told reporters that he'd been told by Senate leaders that his bill wouldn't see the light of day.

Davissaid he'd been reluctant to hear the bill for several reasons. A fiscal impact statement prepared by the Legislative Services Agency – the non-partisan research arm of the legislature – estimated any tax revenues generated by Sunday alcohol sales would be minimal.

LSA concluded that consumers would just be shifting their buying habits, not buying more: “(A)ny impact on sales and Sales Tax and Alcoholic Beverage Tax revenue will likely be mitigated by a shift from other taxable items,” the statement reads.

Davissaid his decision was sealed this week after he had to cancel a House public policy committee hearing due to an unrelated walkout by House Democrats protesting the “right to work” bill. Davis said that's left him with at least 16 bills that need to go through his committee before a late-January deadline for committee hearings.

The House has been officially out of session for six of 11 days this month because a majority of House Democrats have failed to show for quorum votes. They oppose legislation that would outlaw mandatory union dues for private sector workers.