Similar proposals have failed for years, but it took the Senate little more than an hour Tuesday to give final passage to a bill legalizing Sunday sales of alcohol in Connecticut.
The bill is a modified version of legislation proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. When he signs it, Connecticut will leave the company of Indiana, the only other state with a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sunday.
The bill cleared the chamber in a bipartisan 28-6 vote. The House passed the measure last week after a much longer debate.
In addition to allowing alcohol to be sold from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays, the bill also expands package store permit limits from two to three and gives store owners the option of discounting one item per month. The legislation also creates a task force to study pricing issues, which Malloy’s original proposal modified extensively.
The General Law Committee toned down many of the governor’s proposals and the finished product was praised as a compromise during Tuesday’s quick debate.
“We wanted to really understand and try to appreciate what the real impact is if we were to adopt these radical changes,” General Law Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Paul Doyle said.
Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, said package store owners have largely come to terms with the idea that sooner or later the law would be changed to allow Sunday sales, but they don’t want to have the regulations changed suddenly.
“[The bill] gives those small business owners the chance to adapt to the change. You don’t want to disrupt a business with one fell swoop without having some measure of an ability to succeed,” he said.
Sen. Jason Welch, R-Bristol, agreed, saying it’s unfair to change the rules on businesses in the middle of the game.
“Of course this is not a game we’re talking about. We’re talking about real lives, real dollars, and real businesses,” he said.
The changes to the bill were enough to get the Connecticut Package Store Association, an organization that has opposed Sunday sales for decades, to drop its opposition.
Though several senators rose to oppose the bill, none appeared to be attempting to filibuster or simply slow the debate with a long series of questions or by proposing amendments. Many of the six Republicans who opposed the bill said it was a better piece of legislation than what the governor had originally proposed.
Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Riverside, called the amended bill a “ball-peen hammer” compared to the original bill, which he described as a “sledgehammer.”
However, Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, said it was wrong to characterize the bill as a compromise. A compromise is the product of a fair negotiation of stakeholders with equal bargaining power, he said.
“Not where it’s David versus Goliath. In this case the stores had to take what they got, which is Sunday sales, to get rid of the horrible stuff that would kill their business,” he said.
Though he voted for the bill, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney questioned how much good allowing package stores to open on Sunday will do when Connecticut’s alcohol prices are so much higher than Massachusetts’ because of state taxes.
Sen. John Kissel, an Enfield Republican, said the bill will help package store owners in border towns like his to compete with their Massachusetts counterparts. McKinney didn’t think it would work out that way.
“I think Sen. Kissel, who’s been working hard on this issue, is going to sadly find that many of his residents who’ve gone to Massachusetts Monday through Saturday will go to Massachusetts on Sunday because our taxes are so much higher,” he said.
“The budget that was passed that raised taxes on alcohol probably did more damage to those small businesses Monday through Saturday than this bill will help them on Sunday,” McKinney continued.
Though he didn’t get all the changes he wanted, Malloy issued a statement praising the passage of the bill.
“It’s a measure that’s long past due and a good first step to making our state’s package stores more consumer friendly,” he said.
However, the governor said more should be done to help alcohol consumers. The study the bill creates is a good step toward laying the foundation for future action, he said.
“This much is clear — the more we can lower prices for consumers, the more competitive our businesses will be,” he said.