COLUMBUS — A duo of lawmakers in the Ohio House of Representatives is taking a swipe at Sunday liquor sales restrictions, long a vestige of what were known commonly as blue laws.
The proposed legislation would eliminate limitations on Sunday sales of beer and intoxicating liquor, which would not only end local option elections authorizing Sunday sales of beer, wine, mixed beverages or spirituous liquor and eliminate the D-6 liquor permit, but would authorize retail liquor permit holders and agency stores to sell these items on Sunday during the same hours the permit holder sells them Monday through Saturday.
Reps. John Becker (R-65, Cincinnati) and James Hoops (R-81, Napoleon) stated they believe their bill is a simple solution to what has become a patchwork of dry and wet local areas, with the wet areas having varying start times for sales of various alcoholic products on Sundays and holidays.
House Bill 219 would settle a predicament that arose for a pair of the joint sponsors’ constituents, Becker explained during sponsor testimony before the Commerce and Labor Committee.
“The more we look into the issue, we believe this same problem exists throughout the state,” he said. “The issue is that in numerous places in Ohio, Sunday sales of alcohol are prohibited, and the only way to get Sunday sales is to conduct research on the wet/dry status of the property, hold an expensive election and then pay a yearly fee for a D-6 liquor permit that only allows for sales for part of one day.
“HB 219 would treat Sundays and holidays like other days of the week with regard to selling privileges.”
A Sunday-specific election can cost between $5,000 and $10,000 — the same amount a permit holder would pay for an election covering the rest of the week because a precinct-wide vote is a relatively fixed cost regardless of the question on the ballot, Becker added.
During the rest of the week — Monday through Saturday — a retail liquor permit holder generally may sell beer and intoxicating liquor between 5:30 a.m. and 1 a.m. or 2:30 a.m., depending on the type of permit, analysis of the bill provided.
An agency store may sell spirituous liquor during hours specified in the store’s contract with the Division of Liquor Control — generally between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. each day.
“Historically, Ohio has been slow to make changes to the liquor laws and the Ohio legislature proceeds cautiously, which has been the case since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933,” Becker said. “The reason Ohio’s approach is more deliberative is because Ohio was the birthplace of Prohibition. Both the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement and the Anti-Saloon League were based in Westerville, which set the tone of the debate after the passage of the 21st Amendment and into the present day.”
Andrew Herf, executive director of the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association, said it was notable that the Buckeye State has not moved to further restrict Sunday sales since Prohibition.
“Therefore, I believe that this bill is the logical end point based on an 80-year trend,” Herf told committee members. “Representing a trade association of small business owners, the passage of HB 219 would allow many of our members to take advantage of one of the best retail sales days of the week.”
Hoops said the tax revenue generated from the additional sales would benefit the state in a couple of ways.
“On beer and wine, Ohio will see an increase in tax revenue,” he said. “On spirituous liquor, which is anything over 21 percent alcohol by volume, JobsOhio is the direct recipient of the profits and the state will collect increased taxes.”
Hoops said he believes any loss to the Division of Liquor Control because of diminished fees would be outpaced by the benefit to JobsOhio.
“I would like to acknowledge that the bill as drafted is a starting point, not an end result,” Hoops said. “In my experience, liquor bills that are moving through the process tend to be amended through a thoughtful and deliberative process. We welcome those ideas, and the insight of our colleagues.”
HB 219 has the support of a dozen fellow House members.
<em>— KEITH ARNOLD, Ohio Tavern News</em>