INDIANAPOLIS — A proposal to end Indiana's unique status as the only state in the country that prohibits all retail alcohol sales on Sundays easily cleared its first hurdle.
On Wednesday, the Senate Public Policy Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 1, authorizing businesses that sell alcohol for off-premises consumption six days a week to also sell on Sundays between noon and 8 p.m.
State Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, the committee chairman and sponsor of the measure, said most businesses that once advocated against Sunday sales now accept their customers want the convenience of being able to buy carry-out alcohol on Sundays.
Indeed, representatives of Hoosier liquor stores, grocery stores, bars and taverns, wine shops and chambers of commerce all urged the panel to advance the legislation to the full Senate.
"There's no one fighting it in the halls, there's no one fighting it in here (the Senate), there's really no big, strong opposition to it," Alting said. "It just shows you what can happen on good policy legislation if everyone works together."
Lisa Hutcheson, director of the Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking, was the sole person to speak against the proposal in committee.
She said alcohol continues to be the most abused drug in the state, and incrementally increasing the availability of alcohol in Indiana, without an analysis of its effects on health and public safety, "is not good public policy."
Alting observed that alcohol is available for purchase on Sundays at bars, restaurants, sporting events, breweries, wineries and distilleries.
So he said it's not fair to say that allowing liquor, grocery, drug and convenience stores to also sell alcohol on Sundays is an expansion.
"I think it's time," Alting said.
At the same time, Alting is not planning to rush his Sunday sales legislation through the Senate.
He said any chamber vote only will come after his committee decides Jan. 17 whether to expand the availability of cold beer to retailers other than package liquor stores, as proposed in Senate Bill 26 sponsored by state Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville.
"I think it gives Senator Boots courtesy and respect versus me trying to shove Senate Bill 1 through," Alting said. "I think it shows that the chairman ... is doing what is right as the chairman, and not playing politics with his bill."
Cold beer faces dimmer prospects for passage as liquor store owners vehemently oppose giving up the nation's only law regulating beer sales by temperature and awarding them a cold beer monopoly.
Both Alting and state Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, have indicated they also oppose making cold beer more widely available due to public safety concerns.