Senator Witkos Supports Compromise Sunday Sales Bill

March 22, 2012

State Senator Kevin Witkos (R-8) and State Representative Rosa C. Rebimbas (R-70), Ranking Members of the General Law Committee, yesterday voted in favor of a bill they helped create as a bipartisan alternative to the radical changes originally proposed by the Governor’s “Sunday sales” bill.

HB 5021 – An Act Concerning Competitive Alcoholic Liquor Pricing and Hours of Operation for Permittees is commonly known as the “Sunday sales” bill. The bill, which was first drafted by the Governor, included drastic changes to the way the liquor industry operates, prompting public outcry. On February 28 Sen. Witkos and Rep. Rebimbas took in hours of public testimony from stakeholders who expressed that the proposal would be devastating to mom-and-pop liquor stores and public safety because it:

  • Extended the hours package stores and grocery stores can sell alcohol from 9:00pm to 10:00pm
  • Extended the hours bars and restaurants can serve alcohol to 1:00am on weeknights and 2:00am on weekend nights to 2:00am every night
  • Eliminated State minimum pricing regulations
  • Created a medallion system that would allow owners to open up a liquor store in any town regardless of how many stores are already open in that town
  • Extended the allowable number of package stores owned by a single permittee from 2 to 9

Allowed for convenience stores to obtain a permit to sell beer

These measures decidedly favored the creation of big box retailers at the expense of mom-and-pop stores who would be undercut by larger businesses’ buying power and storage capacity. These far-reaching policies, which were estimated to put 300-500 package stores out of business, prompted hundreds of people to visit the Capitol and express their opinions on the bill.

However, many consumers were clamoring for the opportunity to have increased convenience and the potential for lower prices. Rep. Rebimbas and Sen. Wikos joined Democratic leadership in the General Law Committee to develop a bill that would be a responsible compromise between consumers’ desire for convenience and the need to protect small businesses in the interest of economic recovery.

Rep. Rebimbas and Sen. Witkos helped altered the bill so that State maintains current laws with the exception of these aspects:

  • To allow package stores to be open from 10:00am to 5:00pm on Sunday (package stores eventually conceded to this component)
  • To extend the number of package stores owned by a single permittee from 2 to 3
  • To allow retailers to choose one item per month to discount at up to 10% below cost
  • To allow casinos only to serve alcohol until 1:59am daily

“As a Ranking Member of the General Law Committee, I am proud that this bill is a testament to the Committee’s legacy of true bipartisanism as Sen. Witkos and I have worked closely with the Democratic Chairs to make this bill a balance between consumer convenience and the needs of small businesses.” Rep. Rebimbas said.

“The alcohol industry is regulated for good reason. I’m pleased that we’ve developed a workable proposal that can be supported by both package stores and policymakers.” Rep. Rebimbas said.

“I am pleased that we could work together with the Chairs to improve this bill for businesses and consumers alike,” said Senator Witkos. “It balances the concerns of small mom-and-pop package stores with the needs of big box stores that would have otherwise dominated the market had we passed the initial version.”

“Given the short time frame of this year’s session, it would also create a task force to consider further proposals to be reviewed next year,” said Senator Witkos. “Our constituents have demanded the ability to purchase alcohol on Sundays, and we have delivered.”

The bill will now go before the House of Representatives for debate and a final vote.