Indiana Legislature and the Chamber of Secrets

By Will Doss

As I sit in my family room on the final weekend of this holiday season, surrounded by loved ones, colorful Star Wars socks, and the warm glow of personal electronic devices, I can’t help but look back to 2017 and reflect upon some of the year’s more significant Indiana Legislative events.  Even though our media, both mass and social, somehow managed to sink even further into the “All Trump, All the Time” quagmire, there actually were other things going on in the legal world right here in Indiana.

One demonstrative example of how the legislative sausage is made is the current effort to modernize Indiana’s antiquated alcohol laws.  This topic overall is far too involved to adequately cover here in one short blog.  Instead, the immediate focus is more on how our legislature works.  I anticipate additional discussion of interesting alcohol-related specifics down the road, perhaps in a trilogy format.

The complexity involved with comprehensive statutory revision runs far deeper than traditional political party lines.  As with any substantial body of law, a significant amount of time and money was involved in creating the current system under which alcohol-related businesses must operate.  A broad range of businesses and individuals are directly affected by these statutes, rules, and regulations with which they must comply.  Not surprisingly, these affected parties will typically utilize any means available to influence policy and legislation.  This is not to say that any particular person or group has done anything illegal or unethical.  However, the average citizen may not be fully aware of everything that goes on behind the scenes, and it’s not quite as simple as portrayed in Schoolhouse Rock!

During the previous legislative session, the Indiana Legislature once again failed to figure out how to allow people to purchase carry-out alcohol on Sundays.  Apparently, the previous session’s efforts to change the law would have led to the complete downfall of civilized society, and thus they obviously had to be sacked.  It certainly had nothing to do with money or lobbying, but instead was founded on “Traditional Hoosier Values.”  Regardless, efforts continue to not only eventually allow Sunday carry-out alcohol sales, but also cold beer sales at grocery and convenience stores, despite the carnage caused by such cold beer sales in states where it is already allowed.

Having attended a few hours of legislative hearings on various proposed changes to Indiana’s alcohol laws, it is heartening to know that the issue is being taken seriously.  Legislators heard testimony from numerous sources, and they even formed an Alcohol Commission to study Indiana’s alcohol laws.  Unfortunately, despite a demonstrated interest in modernizing Indiana law to better serve a greater proportion of constituents and the businesses they own and for which they work, it will likely remain a slow road to progress.

Indiana’s “blue laws” prohibiting Sunday sales may have a religious origin, but the continuation of this prohibition is due to business models which developed as a result.  Package liquor stores have operated without having to be open on Sundays, and without Sunday competition from big-box or grocery stores.  Changing the rules under which these businesses have formed and operated in the middle of the game could have a significant negative financial impact on package liquor stores and their owners, resulting in their significant and expensive lobbying efforts to maintain the current system.

Proponents of change point out that there is no legal justification to prohibit something on one day of the week that is perfectly legal the remaining six days of the week.  There is certainly a liberty-based interest in being able to transact otherwise-legal business with minimal government interference and reasonably limited, sensible legislation.  Many may not realize that there are similar arguments in favor of package liquor stores, which are currently prohibited from selling most grocery items, like milk, cold water, cold soda, and certain paper goods.

There are certainly more hard-hitting and far-reaching legislative concerns affecting Indiana citizens, but our convoluted alcohol laws have significant effects, financial and otherwise, on businesses and individuals.  These laws serve as a prominent example of why legislative modernization and revision is needed on numerous fronts to keep pace with an ever-changing business and social climate.  The struggle is in keeping a fair balance between those seeking sensible change and those who have invested their livelihoods in an industry accustomed to operating under a certain set of rules.  This balancing act is perfectly evidenced by the current proposed Senate bill, which would allow Sunday sales, but only from noon to 8 PM.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of Will Doss and do not necessarily reflect the policies, ideologies, positions, or points of view of BSC or its employees.  The information in this blog is accurate and authentic to the best of Will’s knowledge, but everyone makes mistakes.  This most definitely is NOT legal advice, and your reliance on anything in or related to this blog is at your own peril.  Will Doss and BSC are not liable for anything you choose to do after, before, or while reading this blog, and improper use may result in serious injury or death.  Be kind, rewind.  No trees were harmed in the creation of this blog, but several million electrons were slightly inconvenienced.