Sunday alcohol sales bill passes state Senate

Hartford — Legislation to abolish Connecticut's long prohibition on Sunday retail sales of alcohol cleared a final hurdle in the state Senate Tuesday and now awaits the signature of its chief backer, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Once the bill is signed, all package stores and groceries may begin selling alcohol from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays, including Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July. It also allows sales on the Mondays following Sunday holidays.

The Senate passed the bill 28 to 6 late Tuesday afternoon, with Democratic Senators Andrew Maynard of Stonington and Andrea Stillman of Waterford voting for it. Edith Prague of Columbia and Eileen Daily of Westbrook were absent for the vote due to medical reasons, Senate leaders said.

Last week, the House passed the bill in a 116-27 vote. All southeastern Connecticut representatives voted for it.

During Senate debate Tuesday, Sunday sales proponents thanked Malloy for bringing the proposal to the fore this year.

“Had the governor not made that initiative ... we wouldn’t be here,” said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield.

The governor likewise praised the Senate and the House for passing the bill.

“Once I sign this bill, Indiana will be the only state in the nation to ban Sunday sales,” Malloy said in a late afternoon statement. “It’s a measure that’s long past due and a good first step to making our state’s package stores more consumer friendly.”

Yet the final legislation is only a partial victory for Malloy.

The governor’s initial proposal called for a full overhaul of liquor store ownership limits and minimum pricing systems that he said make Connecticut's alcohol prices higher than those in neighboring states.

Malloy's original plan also contained "beer only" permits for convenience stores and large gas stations, in addition to longer selling hours on Sundays and weekdays.

But a key legislative committee scaled back the ownership and pricing initiatives. Instead, the bill will create a 15-member study group to examine those issues and report back.

That excision was key to gaining support for the Sunday sales portion of the bill from the state’s influential package store lobby.

Many package store owners have long fought Sunday sales, contending that an extra day of business would add more to their costs than their revenues.

But according to Carroll Hughes, chief lobbyist for the Connecticut Package Stores Association, the pricing initiatives would be far more devastating to small “mom and pop” stores than Sunday sales. In the end, the package stores gave ground on Sunday sales to fend off the larger threat.

“They made a concession I never thought I’d see,” Kissel said. “They said, ‘Listen, go slow on the rest of the bill, and if you could, we will go along with Sunday sales.’”

The bill that ultimately passed allows the below-cost sale of one beer or alcoholic item per month, but at no more than 10 percent below cost.

It also gives package stores the new options of selling cheese, crackers, olives and fresh fruits used to prepare drinks. And it removes the ban on first selectmen who act as their town's police chief from holding a liquor license.

The ban affects East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica, who owns Flanders Fish Market.

Sen. Maynard said he voted for the bill because the pricing part had been removed.

“After four years opposed to Sunday sales in defense of small mom and pops, I came to believe that Sunday sales alone was something I could support,” Maynard said. “But freighting it with the governor’s four or five items would have been punishing to our small operators.”

Stillman said she, too, voted for the bill because the governor’s pricing plans were taken out.

“I believe his bill would have put the package stores out of business over time,” she said.

But not all senators were so comfortable with the compromise legislation.

“We’re human and we all need a day of rest,” Len Suzio, R-Meriden, said. “I’m worried for these small business owners ... who may now feel compelled to work seven days a week.”

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said lawmakers should have lowered state taxes on alcohol instead.

“I’ve yet to meet a package store owner who says that their business will go up by being allowed to open on Sunday,” he said.

j.reindl@theday.com

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