Finally a chance for alcohol sales on Sundays?

There’s a possibility it might at least get a hearing next session.

You have to give members of the Indiana Retail Council points for dogged optimism. They get a bill authorizing Sunday alcohol sales introduced in the General Assembly every year only to see it shot down. Even though the brand-new chairman of the Indiana House Public Policy Committee won’t say how he feels about the issue, the retailers say his appointment gives them a rare opening to get a bill through next session.

Rep. Bill Davis, the previous chairman who has now resigned from the Legislature, wouldn’t give the bill a committee hearing. New Chairman Tom Dermody says he is committed to hearing from both sides and will “know a lot more in the next 40 days.” That attitude certainly warrants a little optimism.

But advocates might want to give their enthusiasm a reality check. There has been no change in Senate leadership, and the bill also failed to get a committee hearing in that chamber last session. Furthermore, the liquor store lobby is among the strongest in the state. Patrick Tamm, the president of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, says a new chairman always “takes a fresh perspective on things” but that “doesn’t necessarily mean anything is going to change.”

And the state’s legislative history suggests tough going. Remember all those grand daylight saving time debates? A bill authorizing DST was introduced year after year, too, until Gov. Mitch Daniels used all the political clout he had to ram it through. It never bothered legislators that Indiana was one of only three states that didn’t observe the annual “spring forward, fall back” ritual. They even took pride in stubborn Hoosier conservatism.

They still do. Who cares if Indiana is the last one standing on the issue? Our restrictions on Sunday alcohol sales are the strictest in the nation. We’re the only state that still bans the Sunday sale of beer, wine and liquor at grocery stores and package stores.

The situation annoys grocery store owners, who say the state is losing revenue to border states with looser laws; they’d like a chance to keep some of that money here. But liquor store owners like the ban just fine. A change would mean more competition and the necessity of opening on Sundays to keep up.

This is one of those rare issues that Hoosiers can watch with detached interest. The outcome will determine only where retail dollars go. Except for hard drinkers too stupid to buy a day ahead, most day-to-day lives aren’t affected. Let the dueling lobbyists duke it out, and may the most clout prevail.


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