Sunday liquor sales bill dies

Daily Reporter Staff Writer

GREENFIELD — Indiana’s 80-year ban on Sunday carry-out alcohol sales will remain in place at least another year after a series of twists and turns in the legislative process left folks on both sides of the debate frustrated.

The bill seeking to end the ban made it further — the House floor — than any other in past sessions. But Rep. Tom Dermody, R-Laporte, the bill’s author, announced its death Tuesday after acknowledging he didn’t have enough votes for it to pass.

According to Kroger spokesman John Elliott, the cause of death was an amendment approved last week that regulated where liquor could be displayed and sold, leaving what he said was a “one-sided” victory for the package liquor stores, which have long been against the proposal.

But Steve Coram, owner of Chilly’s Liquor in Greenfield, said the amended proposal was fair. Coram, who like many small liquor store owners opposed the original bill that simply lifted the ban, said if every store is able to sell alcohol on Sundays, at least the bigger retailers should have more regulations.

“I’m a little disappointed,” Coram said. “They had a responsible bill for the big-box stores, and they didn’t pass it or present it.”

Put simply, Rep. Bob Cherry said, the measure went through so many changes that it took a 180-degree turn.

“I think they tried to amend it to make it better, and it really got worse,” said Cherry, R-Greenfield. “It’s kind of funny the people who were against the deal to begin with are the ones who are for it now; and the ones that were for it to begin with are against it now. It’s kind of a flip-flop.”

The restrictions pitted grocery chains and convenience store owners against liquor stores. All beer and wine would have been kept in a designated area, with liquor stored behind the counter. Clerks would have had to be 21 and older and have training, and customers couldn’t purchase hard liquor at a self-service checkout.

Grocery chains, convenience stores and pharmacies have long supported allowing retail alcohol sales on Sunday, but they argued that segregating liquor would create longer checkout lines and inconvenience consumers.

The original bill, which simply lifted the Sunday ban, was fair to consumers, Elliott said.

“We came into the session with a fair and balanced bill that would allow the sale of alcohol on Sunday the same way we do six days of the week,” Elliott said. Instead, he said the amendments added last week turned the measure into “a liquor store wish list.”

“We got what we wanted … in terms of killing the bill; that does not mean we no longer support Sunday sales,” Elliott said. “It does mean we just could not accept all of the damage that would have come from the amendments. We’ll try again until our customers are allowed to purchase alcohol on Sundays.”

Liquor store owners, who originally opposed Sunday sales for fear of increased overhead costs without additional revenue, stood behind the new proposal and its amendments.

Coram believes the ban will at some point be lifted, so he wishes such changes to how alcohol is sold in big-box stores would have been considered in a House vote. While retailers say it would have cost too much to renovate their stores to meet the requirements of the amendments, Coram argues it just would have taken “a couple sections of drywall and moving a register and a counter.”

Today was the deadline for the House to consider the proposal before it would have gone to the Senate for the second half of the legislative approval process.

Cherry said he was leaning against the bill with all of its regulations, but he also believes the state has an antiquated alcohol law.

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, who represents part of Hancock County, was a co-author of the bill and has long said it’s time for the state to end its Prohibition-era ban. Indiana is the last to have a statewide “blue law” banning Sunday carry-out alcohol sales. Alcohol can, however, be sold in restaurants on Sundays.

Eberhart could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Dermody said it was a stretch to get the measure to the point of the full House floor.

“When it came down to it, I think people were uncomfortable continuing to move the bill forward, and we clearly did not have the votes,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Pull Quote

“It’s kind of funny the people who were against the deal to begin with are the ones who are for it now; and the ones that were for it to begin with are against it now. It’s kind of a flip-flop.”

Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, on the death of a bill allowing Sunday liquor sales