Governor signs historic Indiana Sunday alcohol sales bill

Posted at 3:07 PM, Feb 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-28 15:07:53-05

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb made history Wednesday by signing a new law that will legalize the carryout sale of alcohol on Sundays.

For decades, efforts to overturn the law foundered among bickering by interest groups — most notably liquor store owners, who stood to lose business to big box retailers on a major shopping day.

But that opposition evaporated this year. Starting this Sunday, Hoosiers will be able to buy carryout alcohol between noon and 8 p.m. at liquor stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and big box retailers across the state.

"There is absolutely no need, any longer, to make a run for the border," Holcomb said, referring to the time-honored tradition, for those living near Indiana's borders, of crossing state lines to purchase alcohol on a Sunday. "Today is a big day ... it's all about the consumer."

So will the governor exercise the new right this Sunday? Holcomb hinted yes, noting a cookout is planned at the governor's residence, while suggesting he aims to purchase "Hoosier-themed" libations.

Here's a look at the issue:

Some booze history

Indiana has restricted Sunday alcohol sales since becoming a state in 1816.

Some Sunday sales were allowed for travelers during the 1800s, but that practice was banned in the 1850s. An exception was made for alcohol use for "sacramental, mechanical, chemical, medicinal, or culinary purposes," according to an overview published by the Indiana Law Journal.

The passage of the 21st Amendment in 1933 overturned Prohibition, but Indiana retained a ban on Sunday sales of alcohol.

Indiana is becoming the 41st state to allow Sunday liquor sales, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Allowable alcohol sales

The new law will allow an estimated 3,800 liquor stores, groceries, pharmacies and convenience stores to sell any alcohol products between noon and 8 p.m. on Sundays. Restaurants and bars have long been allowed to sell alcohol by the glass Sundays, but those with carryout licenses will also be able to offer such sales seven days a week.

Sunday carryout sales can begin this weekend after legislators amended the bill two weeks ago to make it effective immediately upon the governor's signature. The initial versions of the bill had it taking effect July 1 — the date typically set for most new Indiana laws.

The change will increase convenience for consumers, but a state legislative report projects no significant increase in alcohol sales or state revenue from alcoholic beverage and sales taxes.

Why now?

Bills to repeal the Sunday sales ban failed repeatedly in the Legislature, caught up in a battle between liquor stores and big-box retailers.

Liquor store owners long opposed lifting the ban because they faced an additional day of expenses while expecting little increase in sales. Grocery stores and pharmacies that were already open on Sundays could see more sales with little increased costs.

Liquor store interests flexed their muscles at the Statehouse, spending at least $150,000 on lobbying in recent years while donating more than $750,000 to lawmakers since 2010, an Associated Press review found last year.

The Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers gave way this year, focusing instead on preserving another unusual alcohol law, which gives liquor stores a stranglehold on the sale of cold beer in the state.

They struck a deal with the Indiana Retail Council before the legislative session started, agreeing to support Sunday sales in exchange for the Retail Council opposing legislation that would allow the big-box stores they represent to sell cold beer.

What hasn't changed

A big part of the reason lawmakers took up Sunday sales this year is because of a bitter legislative fight that erupted in 2017 over which stores can sell cold beer.

It's a right primarily enjoyed by package liquor stores, though convenience stores have long sought for the ability to sell cold beer, too, instead of the room temperature beer and chilled wine they can currently sell.

A push by the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association for expanded cold beer sales went nowhere this year. That leaves Indiana as the only state that regulates beer sales by temperature, according to the trade group.

Roughly 61 percent of Indiana residents think convenience and grocery stores should be able to sell cold beer, according to a 2017 poll conducted by Ball State University's Bowen Center for Public Affairs. That's more than the 58 percent of those surveyed who supported allowing Sunday carryout alcohol sales.