INDIANAPOLIS — The commission tasked with reviewing Indiana's alcohol laws tentatively agreed Tuesday that carryout alcohol retailers should be permitted to sell between noon and 8 p.m. on Sundays.
Members of the Alcohol Code Revision Commission said overwhelming public support for Sunday sales prompted them to endorse a preliminary draft of a legislative proposal authorizing Hoosiers to purchase carryout alcohol on Sundays.
The commission's support for Sunday sales now is set to be incorporated in its final report to the General Assembly that's due for a commission vote Dec. 8.
A majority of the panel's 17 members must approve that final report — which is all but certain to include other, more controversial recommendations — to forward Sunday sales and all the commission-endorsed alcohol policy changes to the Legislature for action in January.
In any case, the nation's only statewide ban on all Sunday retail alcohol sales will remain in effect unless the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb concur that it should be junked.
Commissioner Keith Byers, a Fort Wayne businessman, said his decision to support Sunday retail alcohol sales was not difficult to make based on what he's learned at the six alcohol commission meetings since August.
"I've heard nothing that convinces me that Sunday sales is going to add to any more alcohol abuse or underage drinking," Byers said. "To me, it's a free market issue."
State Rep. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, who owns a convenience store but does not sell alcohol, agreed.
He said studies show the state is losing up to $10 million a year in tax revenue when Hoosiers cross state lines to purchase alcohol on Sundays and buy other items as well.
Boots also pointed out that Hoosiers already can carry out on Sundays from craft breweries, distilleries and farm wineries. In addition, alcohol can be consumed on site at bars, restaurants and sporting events on Sundays.
"We work for the people of the state of Indiana and we should do what's right for the state of Indiana," Boots said. "Sunday is the second-biggest shopping day of the week."
Only state Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, expressed concern about recommending the Legislature consider authorizing Sunday retail alcohol sales.
"Beer and religion to me don't equate," Randolph said. "And I'm not even that religious."
Commissioner Terry Bauer, a retired Indiana Excise Police lieutenant, said the desire to avoid overlapping alcohol sales hours with most church services was among the reasons the commission recommended Sunday sales be limited to an eight-hour period beginning at noon.
Alcohol can be sold in Indiana between 7 a.m. and 3 a.m. the other six days of the week.
State Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said she's not certain it makes sense to have different hours for Sunday retail alcohol sales if the goal is to simplify the state's alcohol laws.
She said the commission might want to consider revisiting its recommendation for Sunday sales hours before voting on its final report.
Commission members reviewed, but did not vote on, 19 other possible alcohol policy changes, including legalizing cold beer sales at grocery, drug and convenience stores.
Currently, package liquor stores enjoy a monopoly on cold beer sales in Indiana.
Many commissioners seemed reluctant to recommend expanding the availability of cold beer, especially at gas stations, due to the possibility that it will lead to more drunken driving in the state.
"We're not talking about milk, we're not talking about bread, we're talking about a regulated product that if it is abused, it kills," said Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Policy which oversees alcohol regulations.
In response, Boots pointed out that gas stations already can sell cold wine, and plenty of people buy cold beer at liquor stores, with no corresponding increase in drunken driving incidents or deaths in Indiana.