INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Repealing Indiana’s ban on retail Sunday alcohol sales is a top priority this year, Republican leaders of the state Senate said Monday. But a measure that would allow pharmacies, convenience stores and big box retailers to sell cold — and not just warm — beer faces a far more uncertain fate.
The two alcohol proposals have been debated for decades, with powerful lobbying interests scuttling past efforts to revise the state’s antiquated liquor laws. This year, however, there is renewed interest among lawmakers to take up the proposals, which enjoy considerable popular support.
The Senate even made retail Sunday sales legislation Senate Bill 1 — a numerical distinction typically reserved for major priorities.
“It was important to say that we’re recognizing that its time has come,” said GOP Senate leader David Long, of Fort Wayne. “It seems there is a consensus building around that in the private sector among all the players in alcohol.”
The detente comes after the issue of cold beer sales erupted during last year’s legislative session. That’s because Jay Ricker, owner of Ricker’s convenience stores, found a legal loophole allowing him to sell cold beer, so long as he obtained a restaurant permit and sold prepared food.
The move infuriated Republican statehouse leaders who said Ricker’s work-around went against their legislative intent.
A special commission met during the interim to study the issue. Members voted to formally recommend repealing the retail Sunday sales prohibition. But cold beer, which was supported by a majority of voting commission members, came up one vote shy of the threshold needed to formally recommend changing the law.
Still, Republican Sen. Ron Alting, who chairs the Senate committee that handles alcohol matters, says he will bring cold beer legislation up for an up-or-down vote in his Public Policy committee. In the past such proposals have not received a hearing, said Alting, of Lafayette.
That’s a good first step says Ricker, whose ability to sell cold beer was curtailed last year by emergency legislation making it virtually impossible to renew his permits.
“We are encouraged by today’s news,” Ricker said. “Cold beer is the number one reform Hoosiers want in our state’s alcohol laws.”
Retail Sunday alcohol sales legislation isn’t the only priority for Senate Republicans. Additional items on their agenda aim to increase the number of students who study computer coding, alleviate a public school funding shortage and tinker with the state’s civil forfeiture law. Another proposal would compel doctors to use the state’s opioid prescription tracking database.
The Republican majorities have acknowledged, however, that they do not have an overarching goal for the session like in years past. Instead, they are taking up smaller issues as they head into an election year.