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Editorial: Sunday liquor laws outdated, need to go

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During the Super Bowl, fans watching the game at a sports bar had no trouble ordering another beer.

If those watching the game at home ran out, they were out of luck. They aren’t allowed to run to the store for a six-pack on Sunday.

The Indiana General Assembly is debating this marketplace anomaly. Two bills aim to broaden a state law that currently restricts Sunday alcohol sales to restaurants, bars, breweries and wineries.

The sponsor of one bill said allowing Sunday carryout alcohol sales would bring in more tax revenue for the state, but liquor store owners contend their overhead costs would increase in order to staff their stores an extra day.

Liquor store owners also argue that allowing Sunday sales would essentially spread out six days’ worth of sales over seven days and worry that more people would buy alcohol while shopping at grocery stores instead of making a trip to a liquor store.

“This state not allowing Sunday sales has kept us in business,” said Jon Sinder, co-owner of Crown Liquors, a chain of Indianapolis-area stores. “In other states, you can’t buy spirits at big-box retailers.”

But Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, author of the Senate bill, said it’s time for Indiana to adopt a free-enterprise mind-set.

“The state of Indiana has said it’s OK to consume alcohol on Sunday, but they’ve picked who the winners are and who the losers are,” he said. “I think that it’s time we become more competitive. Competition is not a bad thing. The liquor stores don’t want to compete.”

Liquor store owners say competition isn’t their only concern. They contend their stores are more heavily regulated than big-box retailers and argue that the package liquor industry helps keep alcohol out of the hands of minors.

“All of our clerks are licensed and trained,” Sinder said. “If we go, then the state becomes less safe.”

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, who authored the House bill, argues that Indiana’s current law might be less responsible because it allows for Sunday carryout sales at restaurants.

“How silly is that that we allow somebody to drink and drive home, but we don’t allow somebody responsible to buy that alcohol on Sunday to take it home and enjoy it?” he asked.

Another anomaly the General Assembly needs to address involves cold-beer sales, which currently are allowed only at package liquor stores. This distinction is needless. Let all beer retailers sell chilled products if they wish and let the consumers make their own choices.

The state ban on retail alcohol sales dates back to Prohibition and was part of what traditionally are called “blue laws,” which seek to impose moral values on the marketplace. But over the years, these have been chipped away so as to become virtually meaningless. And Indiana is the last state in the nation to bar retail alcohol sales on Sundays.

The argument that changing the law would require liquor store owners to open on Sunday is weak. After all, many small shops are closed on Sunday, whether for religious or market reasons. But that choice rests with the owners.

On the other side, the tax argument isn’t a compelling reason either. The revenue increase is unlikely to be significant.

The real reason to end the ban is that it’s just plain outdated.

End the restriction, and let the market be the determining force.

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