Today the Indiana Senate’s Public Policy Committee unanimously voted in favor of approving alcohol sales on Sunday, and the bill will move to the entire Senate for another reading. This is a promising step after two lobbyist groups – the Indiana Retail Council and the Indiana Associations of Beverage Retailers – reached common ground last November after years of disputes. Polls suggest that the majority of Hoosiers would like cold beer and carryout alcohol sales on Sundays. Late last year a panel voted in favor of approving Sunday sales between 12 and 8pm. Indiana is one of just 11 states that prohibits retail alcohol sales on Sundays, and even lawmakers have admitted that the current alcohol laws are “archaic.”
The Temperance Movement and Prohibition
The Temperance Movement gained significant influence in Indiana as women in particular championed avoiding alcohol as a moral cause and cure to social ills. Indiana passed states laws prohibiting alcohol in 1855 – long before national prohibition was passed. Indiana’s Supreme Court struck down statewide prohibition just 3 years later, but nonetheless anti-alcohol sentiment remained across the state and gathered steam.
During World War I, this reached fever-pitch as critics claimed that alcohol took away grain that could be used to feed European allies. Even Indiana’s chapter of the Ku Klux Klan had a stake in prohibition as they tried to rebrand themselves as a moral authority. Indiana again passed a state law prohibiting alcohol in 1918, making it a dry state for the second time before national prohibition was ever passed. Finally, in 1920 the 18th Amendment effectively made it illegal to produce or supply alcohol across the entire United States. However, this did little to affect supply or demand for alcohol. Instead of legal companies providing alcohol, gangs and bootleggers infamously fought for control of alcohol supply chains to underground establishments and clubs.
In an effort to curb demand, Indiana’s branch of the Anti-Saloon League – a prohibitionist lobbying group – helped to pass the Wright “Bone-Dry” law in 1925 to crackdown on possession within the state. Nationally, it was legal to possess alcohol for medicinal purposes, but the law Indiana passed made it illegal even with a Doctor’s prescription. However, the law was hotly debated after both Indiana’s Attorney General, Arthur Gilliom, and Governor, Ed Jackson, obtained medicinal alcohol prescriptions for sick members of their family. It was also later revealed that one of the biggest prohibition champions in the state, Reverend Edward Shumaker, also indulged in a daily medicinal tonic that contained 23% alcohol. This added to the political scandal and made many Hoosiers reconsider the stricter policies.
Slow Repeal of “Blue Laws”
The 21st Amendment, which repealed national prohibition laws and handed alcohol regulation to individual states, was passed in 1933. Indiana began the slow process of repealing their “blue laws” over the next 50 years. In 1935, the Liquor Control Act, which banned alcohol sales on election day, Sundays, and certain holidays alongside allowing the issuance of separate beer and liquor-wine licenses. In 1953 the Act was amended to allow liquor stores to sell warm beer and again in 1963 to allow them to sell cold beers (under certain stipulations). However, the 1963 amendment did not allow grocery or retail stores to do the same. During the 1970’s, Indiana eased some of the legal restrictions around Sunday alcohol sales, allowing sales at wineries, restaurants, and bars. Indiana’s alcohol laws would not see significant amendment for another 40 years when in 2010 alcohol prohibition on election day was repealed.
Current alcohol laws are remnants of the prohibition era, and both lawmakers and Hoosiers have agreed that they are nonsensical. In the past, disagreements between he Indiana Retail Council and the Indiana Associations of Beverage Retailers have forced lawmakers to give up on repealing Sunday prohibition, and the holdup on legal changes has largely been thanks to this rivalries. The agreement reached in November is extremely promising for potential Sunday sales of retail alcohol after years of holdup. However, not all lawmakers or Hoosiers are excited for change, and only time will tell if Indiana will be able to scrape through the new legislation.