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Lawmakers not sold on proposed legislation

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A state lawmaker has proposed revising a decades-old ban to allow the carryout sale of alcohol on Sundays starting this summer.

State Rep. Sean Eberhart, who proposed the change, said the law against Sunday sales is old-fashioned and Hoosiers want the convenience of being able to buy alcohol seven days a week.

Currently, Indiana allows residents to buy alcohol at restaurants and bars on Sundays, and Eberhart said the state needs to extend the law to allow all alcohol sales on Sundays. Indiana is the only state that forbids carryout alcohol sales on Sundays.

Local lawmakers agree the change would be convenient for Indiana shoppers, but state Reps. Woody Burton and David Frizzell said they think allowing alcohol sales on Sundays would give stores, such as Walmart and Kroger, an advantage over liquor stores. Both said they want the bill to include more restrictions

for stores, such as putting alcohol behind the counter, before they would support it.

“Selling it on Sunday, I’m neutral to that. But the details of who’s selling it and where, that I’m concerned about,” Burton said.

Local liquor store owners said they oppose the change because they would have to spend more on staffing to keep their stores open on Sundays and likely wouldn’t get as many customers or as much business as grocery stores and big-box stores.

The proposed legislation is being discussed by the Indiana House public policy committee and could be presented to the full chamber for a vote within the next couple of weeks. If the House approves the proposal, the bill would move on to the Senate for approval and then would need to be signed by the governor before the law could be changed.

Local legislators say they want to see the final proposal before determining if they would support or oppose it.

“When the bill finally gets to us, those things are sometimes changed considerably. It has a ways to go yet,” State Rep. John Price said.

State Rep. Bill Davis, chairman of the committee reviewing the bill, said the panel has discussed changing the proposal to add more restrictions, such as requiring everyone who sells alcohol to receive training and get a license. But any decision most likely will benefit one group of stores over the other, Davis said.

“It comes down to an issue of competition and finances and who gains and who loses, whether you’re an independent liquor store or you’re a chain or bigger operation,” Davis said.

Ken Ziemer, owner of Vandivier Spirits in Franklin, said big-box stores would benefit from selling alcohol on Sundays because they already are open and wouldn’t have additional costs.

Charles Key, owner of two Payless Liquors stores in Greenwood, estimates he would have to spend $100,000 a year to keep his stores open on Sundays, and he would not make that much money off additional sales.

“We have no other reason to bring people in our stores. Groceries have all kinds of people all the time. It’s zero cost to them. And it punishes us,” Key said.

Liquor stores currently have an advantage over other businesses that are open seven days a week, State Sen. Greg Walker said.

Those businesses have to pay the costs of opening their stores on Sundays, just like liquor stores would, and liquor stores can still remain closed on Sundays if they wanted, Walker said.

But liquor store owners would be afraid to stay closed because that would mean the possible business they could get would go to other stores, Ziemer said.

“I think every retailer is afraid to give up that market share by someone being open and others being closed,” Ziemer said.

Key and Ziemer said big-box and grocery stores already benefit from not having to follow the same restrictions required of liquor stores, which sell alcohol and few other products. For instance, liquor stores can be fined by the state if anyone under the age of 21 enters the store, but people of any age can walk through a liquor aisle at a grocery store, Key said.

They don’t want those stores to get another advantage by being able to sell alcohol on Sundays.

“We need to all meet the same requirements. If we’re on a level playing field, I have no objections,” Key said.

Burton agreed that big-box and grocery stores should have the same rules and said he would consider supporting a proposal that allows alcohol sales on Sundays if it included added restrictions for those stores. He would like to see a bill that requires stores to keep alcohol behind the counter, like they already do with cigarettes, to keep it away from underage shoppers.

State Sen. Brent Waltz said the decision to allow alcohol sales on Sundays or to place more restrictions on big-box or grocery stores most likely won’t be made entirely by state legislators but will instead be made through a compromise between lobbying groups that represent liquor stores and big-box stores.

Historically, the two groups of stores have come together to discuss what options would be most fair for both of them then worked with legislators to get those laws approved, he said.

Waltz said he doesn’t know how he would vote on the bill because he hasn’t seen a revised version, but he would typically agree with any compromise by the companies.

“Whatever the compromise is, it’s usually supported by the Senate and General Assembly as a whole. It’s more what the companies agree upon,” he said.

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