It didn’t include all the consumer protections Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wanted, but the House passed a bill 116-24 Thursday that makes sweeping changes to Connecticut’s liquor laws.
For the first time ever in Connecticut, package stores will be allowed to open and sell alcohol on Sundays and certain holidays. The bill also expands package store permit limits from two to three and allows store owners to discount one item per month. In addition, the legislation creates a task force to study pricing issues, which Malloy’s original proposal modified extensively.
Rep. Joseph Taborsak, D-Danbury, said that through negotiations with all the stakeholders they decided that pricing needed more study “before we head down the road of deregulating another industry.” He recalled the decision the legislature made many years ago to deregulate the electricity market.
“The people of Connecticut deserve for us to get this right,” Taborsak said.
A handful of package store owners have said Sunday sales was a distraction to the more harmful provisions in Malloy’s original bill. Store owners like Bill Fore, president of County Wine and Spirits in New Preston, have said Malloy’s proposal to eliminate minimum pricing and allow bulk discounts would have driven mom and pop stores out of business.
If those price protections were eliminated, a large store getting a bulk discount could make a healthy profit selling products at a price below what smaller stores would be paying wholesale. Malloy has said he was trying to look out for the consumer.
The governor, who was used to getting everything he wanted in his freshman year, wasn’t happy with postponing what he believes are consumer protections, but he has called the bill a “victory.”
“I’d like more, but if it’s a two-year process to protect the rights of consumers, if that’s what it has to be, it has to be,” Malloy said Thursday at an unrelated event. “The reality is that we’re on the cusp of doing something that’s never been done in the state of Connecticut and that’s add 55 days of sales and consumer ease.”
He said he remains committed to bringing the price of alcohol down for consumers and with five appointments to the task force created by the bill he will have a lot of influence. The governor reminded reporters Thursday that Connecticut is losing $570 million in alcohol sales to neighboring states and those sales aren’t just happening on Sundays.
Rep. Kathy Tallarita, D-Enfield, said she’s excited about the bill because she’s been fighting to keep alcohol sales in Connecticut. Since Enfield is near the Massachusetts border, package store owners in her community have been lobbying for Sunday sales for a long time.
“It’s about fairness for me. It’s about allowing business to do business as they so choose, including Sunday,” Tallarita said.
She said in addition to being about consumer convenience the bill also is a revenue generator. She said the bill will bring in $5.3 million annually.
An amendment the House adopted through a voice vote will allow package stores to sell certain types of snack foods such as chips, candy, nuts, cheese, and olives. The amendment was proposed to help put package store on similar footing with grocers. Package store owners feared they would lose business to grocery stores if customers were also allowed to food shop and purchase alcohol in one location.
Lawmakers eliminated the complicated medallion system for store ownership proposed by Malloy.