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Fate uncertain for Indiana Sunday alcohol sales bill

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - 6:30 pm

INDIANAPOLIS — Supporters of ending Indiana's unique ban on Sunday retail alcohol sales will have to wait until at least next week before knowing whether their effort will advance in the Legislature.

Bills seeking to end the ban have been filed by legislators for the past several years, but an Indiana House committee hearing on Wednesday marked the first time lawmakers have taken up the proposal.

Public policy committee chairman Rep. Bill Davis, R-Portland, said after the hearing that he didn't support ending the prohibition of Sunday sales but that he'll talk with committee members before deciding on whether to advance the bill to the full House.

"We'll decide going forward exactly what we're going to do with the bill if we're going to vote on it next week or whether we're going to amend it," Davis said. "We just haven't made those decisions yet."

Dozens of opponents to lifting the ban filled much of the House chamber and gallery for Wednesday's three-hour hearing, with many of them wearing stickers saying, "No Sunday Sales."

Several liquor store owners and employees spoke against the change, arguing it would benefit large chain grocery and convenience stores that don't face age restrictions on who can enter and don't have the same requirement of hiring clerks with state liquor licenses.

Supporters of allowing Sunday sales said it would be more convenient for customers and eliminate an outdated law.

Indiana is the only state that prohibits retail carryout sales of beer, wine and liquor on Sundays, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Indiana is among 12 states with limits on Sunday sales of liquor.

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, said he sponsored the bill ending the Sunday sales ban because he thought it was inconsistent with state laws allowing alcohol sales at restaurants, bars, concerts and sporting events.

"We can gamble 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Eberhart said. " ... We can visit a strip bar and drink alcohol any day of the week."

Andy Lebamoff, co-owner of the Cap n' Cork liquor stores in Fort Wayne, said he estimated his 15 stores would need to see a $9 million increase in sales in order to have enough profits to cover the additional cost of being open an extra day each week.

"It's going to be a huge expense and burden," with no assurances of a sales increase, he said.

The current law protects liquor stores and puts the Legislature in the middle of picking winners and losers among the businesses of selling alcohol, said Scott Imus, director of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.

"This is not at all about controlling alcohol, this is about controlling market share," Imus said.

Supporters of the change said they believed it would lead to increased state tax revenue from more alcohol sales, but a report by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency said it couldn't determine how much tax revenue the change might generate.

Kroger public affairs manager John Elliott said the grocery store chain estimates it annual Indiana sales could increase by at least $300 million if it could sell alcohol on Sundays. Elliott said he was optimistic that legislators would approve changing the law if given a chance.

"We've spent so many years with an aggressive package liquor store lobby blocking open and honest debate, just to have the opportunity to publicly share our point of view is progress," he said.