RICH JAMES: Alcohol sales could leave the Dark Ages

2014-01-22T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Alcohol sales could leave the Dark AgesBy Rich James nwitimes.com
January 22, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Sip by sip, Indiana seems poised to step out of the Dark Ages when it comes to laws governing the sale and consumption of alcohol.

So backward is the Hoosier state that I think there are still folks bemoaning the end of Prohibition in 1933.

But there’s hope, even in Indiana, a bastion of conservatism.

Just the other day, for instance, I read about a legislative proposal to end the 67-year ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages at the Indiana State Fair.

Heck, a cold beer is about as American as hot dogs and apple pie.

So backward is Indiana that I recall one of the first issues I wrote about when I started covering the Legislature in 1979 involved liquor.

One brave legislator carried a bill to allow the Sunday sale of alcohol in restaurants if the majority of their gross sales involved food.

In other words, you could go out for dinner at one of those places with real tablecloths and have a drink, but would be out of luck at a shot-and beer joint that featured hot dogs.

The bill passed, and eventually you could buy booze on Sunday at any place with a liquor license.

That was some 35 years ago and Indiana hasn’t advanced its liquor laws since.

Hoosiers still can’t buy liquor to take home on a Sunday. I’m not terribly sure why. People surely drink on a Sunday. In fact, Sunday might be the day of the week when the most booze is consumed.

There are a couple of reasons why Indiana remains the last state in the nation to ban the carryout sale of liquor on a Sunday.

One is that package liquor stores think they will lose business to grocery and big-box stores. And liquor stores don’t want to open on Sundays.

The other reason is that religion thing.

There have been unsuccessful attempts to change the Sunday liquor law over the years.

Up until last fall, state Rep. Bill Davis, a Portland Republican, was chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, which heard proposals to change liquor laws.

Portland is south of Fort Wayne, pretty much out in the middle of nowhere other than being in the heart of the Bible belt.

Davis wouldn’t allow a vote on Sunday carryout sales.

Davis quit the Legislature when he was named head of the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. I’m not sure what that agency does, but I suspect it won’t be campaigning for Sunday carryout.

Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, is the new Public Policy Committee chairman and has vowed to give Sunday carryout a fair hearing. Bless those Northwest Indiana guys.

Life – in some respects – has evolved without Indiana. Colorado has legalized the recreational use of marijuana, but Indiana is still fighting the Sunday sale of carry-out liquor.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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