Connecticut no longer will be dry on Sunday. With the governor committed to signing the bill into law, the Senate voted 28-6 Tuesday to give final legislative approval to a measure ending the state’s longstanding ban on Sunday liquor sales.
The bill, which cleared the House of Representatives last week, heads to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who confirmed Tuesday he would sign it, even though it eases liquor price controls less aggressively than he had sought.
“Once I sign this bill, Indiana will be the only state in the nation to ban Sunday Sales,” Malloy wrote in a statement released after the vote. “It’s a measure that’s long past due and a good first step to making our state’s package stores more consumer friendly.”
“This bill is probably one of the most radical and extensive reforms of our liquor statutes since the Prohibition,” Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, co-chairman of the General Law Committee, said. “By passing this legislation, we empower consumers with more options and we protect the interests of small package stores.”
The bill specifically allows liquor permittees to sell alcohol from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays, on the Memorial, Independence and Labor Day holidays, and on Mondays following any Christmas and New Year’s Day that falls on a Sunday.
It also creates a new task force to study liquor pricing rules and also increases the number of package stores a permittee may own. The new legislation also would mean an extra $5.3 million in tax and fee revenues for the state’s coffers, which continue to face deficit forecasts.
No one would be allowed to own more than three package stores, up from the two in current law. But that is short of Malloy’s original limit of nine in a bill he proposed in January or six in a revision he released in February.
Minimum prices largely will remain intact with one notable exception: Retailers can sell one item per month for 10 percent below the cost of acquisition, while Malloy’s most recent proposal was for five items.
Discounted items cannot be sold for less than 90 percent of the permittee’s wholesale cost.
These two proposals, along with allowing more convenience stores to sell beer, were fought most fiercely by the lobby for Connecticut’s package stores.
Several Republican senators predicted the measure, though modified significantly from the plan Malloy offered this past winter, would give large grocery stores and other major chains a financial edge over small package stores.
“We’ve lost that small, independent business person in Connecticut,” said Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield.
“For 18 years I’ve represented many small communities in northwestern Connecticut and for many of these small communities, the package store is the only show in town,” said Sen. Andrew W. Roraback of Goshen.
Roraback, the top GOP senator on the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said the state could do more to drive down retail liquor prices if it focused on cutting its liquor taxes, which outstrip those of bordering states.
“There’s no question they will suffer,” added Sen. L. Scott Frantz of Greenwich.
Sen. Stephen T. Cassano, a Manchester Democrat who backed the measure, said it is crucial that the legislature pay close attention to the findings of the liquor pricing task force and be prepared to act quickly if it finds serious harm being done to small package store owners.
“I worry about the impact on many of these people,” he said. “These small owners have to know: ‘Can I continue in this business or not?’ They’ve mortgaged their homes and everything else to open these stores.”
Carroll Hughes, executive director of the Connecticut Package Store Association, said after last week’s House vote that the bill was balanced. But he added that some of the earlier proposals tied to Sunday sales “would have devastated the industry,” particularly by allowing large chains to own as many as nine stores.
Hughes added that the legislature should have considered allowing package stores to benefit through discounted prices at the wholesale level, a concept he hopes receives more attention in the future. “We had our time on the dissecting table this year,” he said.
But Malloy also added Tuesday, “I continue to believe there’s more we can do to lower the cost to consumers in our state. I look forward to the study proposed by the legislature. It’s a good first step and one that I hope lays the foundation for future action. This much is clear — the more we can lower prices for consumers, the more competitive our businesses will be.”
Democrats: 20 yes, 0 no, 2 absent. Republicans: 8 yes, 6 no, 0 absent.