Debate continues on Sunday alcohol sales
HARTFORD -- The state's police chiefs joined a coalition of liquor store owners on Monday in testifying against a proposal to allow retail sales of alcohol on Sundays.
They said the expansion would result in more crime and as many as 300 smaller package stores would be put out of business.
But proponents of the legislation, which has died in committee during recent sessions of the General Assembly, said that more than 75 years after the end of Prohibition, Connecticut continues to restrict consumers on the second busiest shopping day of the week.
Expanding the law to include Sunday sales, they said, would add $8 million a year in taxes for the revenue-starved state.
During a public hearing before the Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee, law enforcement officials said that crime would rise accordingly.
West Hartford Police Chief James J. Strillacci, Capitol lobbyist for the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said that if enacted, as many as 3,000 retail outlets would be allowed to sell alcohol, including supermarkets and package stores.
"Our first concern as police chiefs is the workload," he said, noting that stopping after-hours sales, sales to minors, and sales to intoxicated persons are part of their daily mission. "It'll be more work for our officers with no additional resources."
A seventh day of sales would increase the chances of illegal activity by more than one-sixth, he said.
"In all likelihood, it's going to be more than one-sixth. Sunday being a day off, it's going to be a busier day than a typical work day," he said. "Minors are not in school on Sunday, so they're going to have all day, a full day, to find that willing adult accomplice that's going to buy and then hand it off to them for money."
Carroll Hughes, Capitol lobbyist for the Connecticut Package Stores Association, predicted that Sunday sales would mean hundreds of package stores would go out of business. Dozens of association members attended the hearing Monday, most wearing "Save my job" lapel stickers.
Hughes criticized a committee staff report on the issue and argued that border town merchants in Connecticut are losing business every day of the week, not just Sundays, because of better retail prices.
"The revenue in Connecticut from Sunday sales would come from chronic drinkers who buy every single day," Hughes said.
"These people sitting over here who protest the Sunday sales and call it a Blue Law, what they really aren't telling you is that they want (alcohol to be sold) 24 hours a day, seven days a week and they sell the same rotgut to the street people as the boutique vodkas," Hughes said.
The retailers in favor of Sunday sales include those located along the borders with New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, co-chairman of the committee and a proponent of the bill, said merchants in his border town have lost business to shops across the border in Massachusetts, which, like 46 other states, has Sunday alcohol sales.
Bruce Nevins, a Danbury resident who owns WineWise in Greenwich, said New York state's law is taking away customers.
"Our customers complain continually that they cannot see or understand any logic to this travesty of justice that exists," Nevins said. "It causes a major inconvenience for consumers and it provides protectionism by the state of Connecticut for a tiny special-interest trade group, a few hundred members, a minority of the 2,000-plus licensed permittees that sell wine, liquor and beer."
He said that when Connecticut shoppers go out of state to buy alcohol, they combine their shopping trips and purchase other items that Connecticut is losing sales taxes on.
"They buy their food, they buy their gas," Nevins said. "Our customers, the citizens of this state, the businesses of this state, want the right to make these purchases on Sunday the same as citizens in 47 out of the 50 states have."
Groups that also spoke out against the expansion of alcohol sales included Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others concerned about the social costs. "If you guys were selling grass seed or lawnmowers on Sundays, these guys couldn't care less," said Rep. Mary M. Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, a committee member.
Currently, bars, restaurants, breweries and farm wineries can sell alcohol on Sunday.
Hughes said that the Massachusetts and Rhode Island stores that are taking away Connecticut business have a variety of businesses with lower prices.
"You don't run out of something you use occasionally," said Hughes.
The committee's deadline for action is late Friday afternoon.