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blue laws

Second attempt at Sunday liquor sales

If at first you don’t succeed.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Democratic Rep. Senfronia Thompson filed a bill last week that proposed liquor stores be allowed to operate seven days a week.

Under the current law, liquor stores may operate from Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The stores must close on Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. If Christmas or New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday, the stores must close the following Monday, according to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Thompson’s proposal would allow the stores to be open from noon to 10 p.m. on Sundays, but the stores would continue to remain closed on the holidays.

[…]

Texas could potentially gain $7.5 million in new revenue every other year if the Sunday ban were lifted, according to a 2011 Texas Legislative Budget Board analysis.

During the 2011 legislative session, a similar measure failed to gain traction. Companion bills filed by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Rep. Jose Aliseda, R-Beeville, were left pending in committee.

Rep. Thompson’s bill is HB421, for those keeping score at home. See here, here, and here for the background. I supported this then and I support it now, mostly because I don’t see any good reason why Sunday should be different than the other days. I’m not the only one who sees it that way, either. We’ll see if this bill has a better fate this time around.

The Sunday liquor sales debate

As we know, one of the Legislative Budget Board recommendations for generating revenue is for the state to allow liquor sales on Sunday. The Statesman takes a look at the debate this proposal has generated.

Legislation to allow Sunday liquor sales died in 2009, but the issue gained momentum this session when the Legislative Budget Board included Sunday liquor sales on a list of revenue-raising options for the Legislature to consider.

It’s an issue that splits the distilled liquor industry.

Distillers are pushing the legislation because they think Sunday sales will increase the demand for liquor. But the Texas Package Stores Association — there are almost 2,500 stores in Texas — opposes it.

David Jabour , the president of Twin Liquors, which has 63 locations in Central Texas, said the legislation would be a burden to store owners.

He argued that opening on Sunday would just spread six days of sales over seven days and increase a store’s overhead.

“It doesn’t pay for itself,” Jabour said. “It ends up costing more in labor and overhead.”

[John Roenigk, co-owner of the Austin Wine Merchant on West Sixth Street,] disagreed.

He said Sunday is second only to Saturday as a popular shopping day. He said he wants a level playing field with his competitors — grocery stores, mainly — who are selling wine on Sundays to his customers.

“The rest of the retail world has changed around us,” Roenigk said. “For the life of me, I don’t know why our industry opposes it.”

Allowing Sunday sales is a no-brainer to me. Let’s be honest, the basis of this restriction is Christian morality – a very specific kind of Christian morality; I can attest that Catholicism has no particular injunction against alcohol. I say that has no place in the law. Individual stores may of course choose to remain closed on Sundays as they see fit, but as Roenigk said earlier in the story, they should have that choice.

The amount of tax revenue at stake here is relatively tiny, which opponents of Sunday sales have used to misdirect the debate a bit.

The budget board staff estimated that allowing Sunday sales would increase liquor consumption by almost 3 percent. That could raise an additional $7.4 million in taxes over those two years, a number that the comptroller has not verified.

Based on the budget board’s numbers, the store owners association estimates that on average a store would only sell an additional 10 bottles of liquor.

“That’s not generating much, even according to their numbers,” Jabour said.

Suzii Paynter with the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission agrees.

When Texas lawmakers face a budget shortfall as high as $27 billion, Paynter said, $7.4 million won’t go far.

The real money, she said, would be in raising taxes on all alcohol, including beer.

She said the state’s excise tax rate on beer has remained the same since 1984. In 2006, the last time the Legislature considered — and rejected — raising alcohol taxes, some plans to increase taxes on all alcohol would have raised $800 million a year. The tax on a can of beer would have increased to 22 cents from 1.2 cents.

Mike McKinney, a lobbyist with Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, said that kind of increase in beer taxes would cripple the industry.

Let me pause for a moment to call BS on Mike McKinney. People aren’t going to stop drinking beer because a six-pack costs $1.20 more. I’m sure sales would drop a little, but “cripple the industry”? Please.

As for Paynter, why is this an either-or situation? I say go ahead and do both – raise alcohol taxes and allow Sunday sales. No, I don’t expect the Lege to seriously consider that, I’m just saying that an argument for one is not an argument against the other. Allowing Sunday sales is an easy one for me, and it should be something the Lege is willing to do. I don’t see the argument against it.

Blue laws

Ever wanted to buy some booze on a Sunday? Maybe soon you’ll be able to.

Most Texans are familiar with the Blue Laws.

Put into effect decades ago, they prevent the sale of hard liquor on Sundays, among other things.

“There is certainly an inconvenience there, no doubt about it,” Spec’s Liquor Warehouse customer Bud Hall said.

And it’s inconvenient even for customers wanting to buy beer or wine. The same laws make it illegal to sell those items before noon on Sundays.

“If we are having a barbecue on a Sunday or something like that, and it is before noon, we have to sit there and wait,” Spec’s customer Scott Moody said.

Now, a bill filed in the Texas Legislature is looking to repeal those restrictions for good.

There’s no information given about said bill or its author in the story, so I’m not sure what its number is, or whether there may be more than one such bill. The closest thing I could find is HB863 by Rep. Robert Roland Gutierrez (D, San Antonio), which would allow for liquor sales on Sundays between noon and 6 PM; it doesn’t mention anything about beer or wine. That doesn’t quite fit the description in this story, but it’s all I could find.

But that’s not good news for Spec’s owner John Rydman.

“In the 2,500 or 2,600 package stores that there are all over the state of Texas are family people. We don’t want to necessarily work another day. It’s not good for my employees. They need a day off,” Rydman said.

It would also add more overhead to the store’s bottom line, Rydman said.

With the economic downturn, state lawmakers are looking for different ways to generate revenue. Selling booze on Sundays is just one of their ideas.

“I think this is a good source of revenue without having to increase taxes or cut valuable state programs,” District 143 State Rep. Ana Hernandez said.

Hernandez said Sunday liquor purchases could generate upwards of $5-8 million for the state.

Rydman disagrees.

He said his sales wouldn’t go up. Instead, he believes they’d just be spread out over seven days instead of six.

“Those who filed the bills are still convinced there is extra money somewhere. They just think we are crazy—that we people in business don’t know what we’re talking about,” Rydman said.

I support repealing the blue laws because I think they’re a relic of a bygone past that doesn’t really serve any purpose today. I think there would be a modest increase in state revenue from such a change; in context, five to eight million bucks is pretty modest and is probably in the neighborhood. It also likely would spread existing sales around more, but that sounds like a convenience customers have wanted. I appreciate Rydman’s concern about his employees and his bottom line, but I feel confident he can make it work. Spec’s notes that its hours of 10 AM to 9 PM Monday through Saturday are “The maximum allowed by law”, which suggests to me they’d do more – certainly that their customers would want them to do more – if they could. So whether it’s HB863 or some other bill I was unable to locate that’s the vehicle for this, I support the effort to extend the allowable hours for the sale of alcoholic beverages.

UPDATE: Roland Gutierrez, not Robert. My apologies.