By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut moved closer on Thursday to becoming the 49th state to allow retail alcohol sales on Sundays.
On a 116-27 vote, the House of Representatives approved a bill to update the state’s liquor laws, including allowing retail sales of alcohol on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Supermarkets, which already sell beer, would be able to sell beer on Sundays, as well.
The legislation now moves to the Senate for further action.
Under the bill, alcohol sales would also be allowed on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day, as well as on Mondays following any Independence Day, Christmas or New Year’s Day that fall on a Sunday.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy commended the House, saying it voted for “one of the most significant changes to our state’s blue laws in recent memory.” He said in a statement that the measure would create an additional 55 days when alcohol sales will be permissible and would keep millions of dollars in the state.
Rep. Kathleen Tallarita, D-Enfield, has pushed for legalizing Sunday sales for several legislative sessions, and said the issue was about fairness. “It’s about letting a business do business as they so choose,” she said.
Tallarita represents a district that borders Massachusetts and said many of her constituents cross the border on Sundays to purchase their alcohol. If the bill becomes law, she said, it will generate $5.2 million in additional revenue for Connecticut.
Indiana is the only other state that doesn’t allow alcohol sales on Sundays.
Earlier in the session, Malloy first proposed a wide-ranging bill aimed at modernizing the state’s liquor laws. But the bill that passed in the House _ a bipartisan compromise among legislators _ did not include some of the more contentious proposals included in Malloy’s original plan.
For example, his ideas for changing the pricing and permitting systems were not included in the bill. Instead, a new task force was created to study those issues and compare Connecticut’s laws to those of surrounding states.
“We weren’t going to roll the dice with people’s livelihoods at this time. We needed more information,” said Rep. Joseph Taborsak, D-Danbury, co-chairman of the General Assembly’s General Law Committee. “The people of Connecticut deserve for us to get this right.”
The bill does, however, allow package stores and grocery stores to put one beer or liquor item on sale up to 10 percent below cost each month. Taborsak said this will allow consumers to shop around and find discounts.
Last week, Malloy voiced concern about how the bill being negotiated did not do enough to help consumers. He said he wanted to see more “pro-consumer language” added to the bill before it reached his desk.
Malloy recalled how he noticed Massachusetts liquor stores advertising lower prices in Connecticut newspapers prior to the Easter holiday. Because of Connecticut’s pricing structure, the state’s consumers can sometimes pay about $5 to $9 more for a 1.75-liter bottle of spirits, and about $2 to $9 more per bottle of wine. That would not change under the bill that passed the House.
In his statement Thursday, the governor said he was encouraged the legislature would study making liquor stores “more consumer friendly.”
“This much is certain _ the more we can lower prices for consumers, the more competitive our businesses will be,” Malloy said.
Under the compromise bill, the state’s package stores will be allowed to sell some new products, including fresh fruits used to prepare mixed drinks, cheese and crackers. Also, olives are specifically listed in the bill as something the stores can sell. Taborsak said there was disagreement about whether olives are a fruit or vegetable.
Lawmakers did not, however, agree to allow liquor stores to sell snack foods, such as candy, chips and nuts. Taborsak said convenience store owners raised concerns that they would be financially harmed by the competition.
The bill also would expand the number of liquor stores that one permit holder may own from two to three.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)