Could Sunday Sales Be Coming to Texas?
Every state has its own quirky alcohol laws. Years ago, I
lived in Indiana and was chagrined to discover that it was illegal to serve
alcohol on election day while the polls were open. This I considered to be manifestly
unfair—when I look at the candidates I have to choose from, I typically need a
stiff drink. Compounding the issue is that while most of Indiana is now in the
eastern time zone, certain communities near the border have opted to stay on
central time. As a result, folks in most of the state have to wait a full hour
after the polls have closed in their locality before they can buy a drink. If
not for that, I guess the thinking went, a person in South Bend could down a
shot of whiskey, drive like mad to Gary to vote and thus invalidate democracy.
Now that I’m back in Texas, I don’t have to deal with that
particular restriction. But Texas laws governing alcohol have their own quirks.
Take Sunday sales, for example. Texas is one of a handful of states that
maintains a ban on certain types of alcohol sales on Sundays. Whatever the
original motivation of the Sunday sales ban, the current version is so shot
through with exemptions as to make it arbitrary and senseless. Sales of hard
liquor on Sunday are prohibited, but only if they are for off-site consumption.
Bars can still serve hooch, and stores can still sell wine and beer. It goes
without saying that you can still buy as much liquor as you want on Monday
through Saturday and then drink it on Sunday. Aside from imposing inconvenience
on customers, it’s not clear what the current laws are accomplishing.
What’s more, while you can still buy a bottle of Scotch on
election day, liquor sales are oddly banned on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New
Year’s (but not New Year’s Eve). The laws seem to be less about protecting
consumers than about giving liquor store employees state-mandated days off
(current statutes provide, for example, that when Christmas falls on a Sunday
stores must be closed the following Monday as well).
Laws such as these are a holdover from a different era, but
are slowly changing. After I left Indiana, the
state repealed its Election Day drinks ban. More and more states are also
starting to repeal their Sunday sales restrictions—including most
recently West Virginia—and reaping both economic
and revenue gains as a result.
Now Texas may follow suit with Sunday sales. S.B.
785, filed by Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) would repeal the holiday bans
and the Sunday ban, albeit with a requirement that stores only sell liquor six
days a week. Even more promising is H.B. 1100, filed by Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Webb),
which would repeal the Sunday ban and pare back the holiday prohibition. Politically,
these reforms are no-brainers. Folks who favor economic liberty want these anachronistic
rules wiped away. Meanwhile, voters worried about Texas’ public coffers can
also take heart—permitting drinks sales each day of the week may generate more sales tax
consumers certainly would like these needless hassles eliminated.
While modest, bills like these are a sign that Texas’
attitudes towards liquor aren’t encased in amber. Times change, and the laws
governing drinks should reflect that.