Since literally the days of Prohibition, residents of Indiana have been unable to buy beer from a local liquor store on Sundays. The restriction, in place since 1933, is one of only a few remaining of its kind in the U.S., a deeply unpopular law that local breweries and drinkers have attempted to repeal on numerous occasions, always ending in failure. But now it looks like the restriction will finally be lifted, a mere 84 years after the end of federal Prohibition.
The good news stems from a bill to allow Sunday sales, which has finally passed a key Indiana Senate committee that approved the measure, the Senate Public Policy Committee. The state senators on said committee have acted as an arbiter for similar bills in the past, killing them without allowing those bills to the floor of the senate. But on Wednesday, they voted unanimously for Senate Bill 1, which would allow convenience, grocery and liquor stores to sell carry-out alcohol (packaged drinks) from noon to 8 p.m. on Sundays. Can’t get too carried away and allow sales until 9 p.m., after all. Baby steps.
So, what caused the change? Why, campaign contributions of course—what else? Unlike previous versions of the bill, this year’s bill is supported by the liquor store industry, according to The Indianapolis Star. They had previously opposed the bill, but have now entered into an uneasy alliance with supermarkets and big box stores to get it passed, in exchange for those same supermarkets NOT supporting the expansion of cold beer sales, which is being presented in a separate bill. As of right now, the liquor stores are the only retailers in Indiana allowed to sell cold beer—according to the Star, they’re the only state in the entire Union that “regulates beer based on temperature.” And although the supermarkets and gas stations would love to be able to sell cold beer, they’ll settle for being able to sell beer on Sunday for the first time.
And so, the compromising liquor stores and supermarket lobby turned its attentions to the senators they tacitly control via campaign contributions, and—wouldn’t you know it—the senators previously against the legislation are now very much in favor of it.
“It would have been different today if the liquor stores didn’t support it,” Sen. Ron Alting, chairman of the committee, said to the Indy Star after the vote. “And it would have been different today if big box (stores) wouldn’t have supported it. Absolutely.”
On one hand, it’s almost refreshing to hear a state politician straight-up admit that they only voted for something because their donors told them to do so, rather than the fact that Sunday alcohol sales have been overwhelmingly supported by his actual constituents for many years. But on the other hand, it’s just as distasteful as it should be. According to the Star, Alting is “the largest recipient of campaign contributions from liquor stores” in the Senate. Seems like a great guy to have in charge of the committee that decides which legislation related to liquor stores makes it to the floor, right? No conflict of interest there!
According to the Indy Star story, Alting also stated that he wouldn’t call Senate Bill 1 for a vote on the Senate floor until after his committee hears and votes on the bill for expanded cold beer sales—presumably so the committee can vote that one down and appease the alliance forged by his donors.
... but hey, the result is still more or less what the consumers wanted in the end, right? Sure, the route to it is shady as hell, but at least you’ll probably be able to buy a bottle of wine on Sunday afternoon soon. God bless our crooked system.