Put a cork in Sunday ban on alcohol sales

Remember the "good old days" when you not only couldn't pop into a Connecticut package store to pick up a six pack for watching the game on Sunday, you also weren't allowed to purchase anything in any store, even a bag of chips or a can of Coke?

Over the decades the Nutmeg State has either repealed or simply chosen to ignore laws prohibiting various forms of retail on Sunday - most recently in 1994, when the legislature voted to allow car dealers to do business seven days a week.

Now Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is proposing a last call for one of the final vestiges of the state's so-called Blue Laws: Sunday sales at liquor stores.

As the governor pointed out this week, Connecticut retailers lose an estimated $570 million in liquor sales each year to New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where package stores may stay open on Sundays. By extension, the state also loses millions in tax revenues.

Some package store owners, particularly mom and pop operations, have argued against previous attempts to repeal the ban because they welcome one day off a week when no retailers can legally sell beer, wine or spirits. By opening up Sunday sales these small retailers would have to forego their day off or hire outside help to remain competitive.

This newspaper sympathizes with their plight, but at the same time recognizes the reality, particularly here in southeastern Connecticut: Anyone who wants alcohol badly enough simply has to drive across the border to Westerly.

Customers also can order drinks at bars and restaurants, a paradoxical distinction that makes about as much sense as laws that mandate package stores in Connecticut must close on Mondays after Sunday holidays, as well as on Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day. Gov. Malloy's plan would eliminate those required closings.

We encourage the state legislature, which has repeatedly voted against allowing Sunday liquor sales in the past, to approve the measure when it reconvenes next month.

On the other hand, this newspaper is less enthusiastic about another aspect of Gov. Malloy's proposed legislation, that bars would be allowed to stay open until 2 a.m. every night of the week. Under current law they can keep serving until 2 only on Fridays and Saturdays; the rest of the week bars must close at 1.

Organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving properly object to this proposed extension, arguing that patrons who stay in bars longer and later are more likely to get behind the wheel while intoxicated. Connecticut does not need this kind of commerce.

Connecticut, one of the last three states in the union to restrict retail liquor sales on Sundays, still clings to components of the Colonial-era restrictions, purportedly enforced to preserve the sanctity of the Sabbath. You still can't hunt on Sundays in Connecticut.

Turns out, though, that the Blue Laws were something of a hoax supposedly perpetrated by an 18th century British author who called himself the Reverend Samuel Peters.

Though "blue laws" had been mentioned in a 1762 religious pamphlet, Mr. Peters was the first to describe them in detail in his 1781 book "A General History of Connecticut."

Many historians now agree that he simply made up most of the more outrageous "offenses," such as running, kissing a child or making mince pies, as well as fanciful penalties that included cutting off ears and burning tongues, in order to portray Colonists as simple-minded fanatics.

Whether the Blue Laws' origins are truth or fiction, the fact remains that most are outdated, unnecessary or simply downright silly.

In the past decade 13 states have repealed laws barring retail establishments from selling alcohol on Sunday - including New York and Massachusetts in 2003 and Rhode Island in 2004. Connecticut needs to adhere to 21st century sensibilities and join these states that take a more reasonable, contemporary approach to alcohol sales.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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