Impaired judgment on alcohol bills
True to its history of impaired judgment when it comes to handling alcohol, the Indiana General Assembly this year placed narrow business interests ahead of public welfare — and didn’t even do so evenhandedly.
Regrettably, Gov. Mitch Daniels signed into law bills to expand Sunday hours for bars, give microbreweries a special dispensation to sell carryouts on Sundays and allow booze sales on Election Day.
As has been its custom in refereeing the endless war between the different types of beverage retailers, the legislature picked winners and losers in the carryout arena using the rationalization that microbreweries can serve as tourist destinations.
Out-of-town spenders, and fear of their disdain for “Naptown,” also figured in the dubious move to extend Sunday tavern hours, now 10 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Monday, to 7 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Lawmakers, in effect, saw only the upside to giving drinkers more opportunities, sellers additional revenue and the state extra tax dollars.
Those who study and combat the problems of alcoholism, underage drinking and drunken driving cite the heavy toll, in money and taxes as well as human suffering, that goes along with increased access to intoxicants. They raise the question: If alcohol is a product that government has an obligation to regulate, just how loose can that regulation be before it becomes merely token?
A happy retailer inadvertently raised another pertinent question when he told The Star the new law was needed so that visitors for the Super Bowl and other events would not view Indianapolis as “small town.” We would rather think the first duty of the city, and the state, is to the health and safety of residents; followed closely by the health and safety of those with whom they share their space. Image, profit and pleasure for outsiders are secondary values. Or should be.
These issues will be with us for a while. Pressure from grocers, pharmacies and big box retailers to sell alcohol on Sundays will continue at the Statehouse, while their rivals, the package stores, will contest that change, pleading hardship.
Meanwhile, the package stores’ association has filed a lawsuit in Marion Superior Court challenging the ease with which supermarkets and drugstores get alcoholic beverage permits. Again, it’s a big-bucks battle without good guys and bad guys as far as the taxpayer is concerned. At the same time, the sheer proliferation of booze outlets is a concern; and it’s one that would better occupy the legislature’s time than the poorly thought out bills that emerged in 2010.