After years of contentious debate, the legislature’s finance committee needed only five minutes Monday to recommend approval of the sale of alcohol on Sunday in supermarkets and package stores.
Rep. Patricia Widlitz, the committee’s co-chairwoman, said the legislature had finally been able to resolve the longrunning controvery that has pitted mom-and-pop package stores against giant supermarkets and liquor manufacturers.
“This is the mother of compromises for this session,” Widlitz said. “I think this is an excellent compromise on their part” by lawmakers.
The committee approved the item by an overwhelming margin of 39 to 11 on a bipartisan basis as many of the most controversial portions of the bill – on the deregulation of the industry – had already been stripped out by another committee.
The measure still requires approval by the full House of Representatives and the state Senate, as well as the signature of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Lawmakers intend for the measure to be passed by the end of the legislative session on May 9 at midnight, and it would include the first sales on a major holiday - on Memorial Day this year.
After years of opposition, the Connecticut Package Stores Association dropped its opposition and decided to support Sunday sales in order to block numerous other proposals by Malloy. Malloy had sought Sunday sales, but lawmakers rejected many of his other proposals to deregulate and sharply change the state’s liquor industry.
Sen. L. Scott Frantz of Greenwich voted against the bill, despite saying, “I think it has gone in the right direction. ” He said that a lack of inspectors would make it impossible to police the new provision whereby a package store can sell one item at a discount and undercut other competitors.
Along with Frantz, some of the “no” votes came from the committee co-chairwoman Eileen Daily, and Representatives Tim Ackert, Larry Butler, Charlie Stallworth, David Scribner, and Richard Smith.
“The committee’s approval vote today is another important step forward in the legislative process that will finally result in the passage of a Sunday liquor sales bill,” said Rep. Kathleen Tallarita, an Enfield Democrat who has become the most outspoken proponent of Sunday sales. “This is good news for Connecticut’s consumers who will benefit from the legislation. In addition, the legislation will raise millions of dollars in revenues. The bill would allow package stores to sell alcohol on Sundays and holidays and hopefully the bill will be law by the Memorial Day holiday.”
In other matters, the committee also debated the controversial move of erecting tolls in order to pay for the eight-mile extension of Route 11 in southeastern Connecticut in an effort to connect to Interstate 95. The measure barely passed by 27 to 23.
“This particular stretch of highway has a low projected volume” of traffic in a project that could eventually cost as much as $1 billion to pay for the road and highly expensive interchange at I-95, said state Rep. David Scribner, a Brookfield Republican.
With the pricetag so high, the tolls would not pay back the cost of the project until 50 years later “while we wait and hope to get paid back,” Scribner said. “I don’t think we should be passing legislation with large question marks. … I think we should at least wait until the study is completed at the end of this year.”
State Sen. Toni Boucher, a Wilton Republican, said the issue is ”a referendum on the issue of tolling in Connecticut” for a short, eight-mile road.
But Sen. Andrea Stillman, who represents communities in the area, said, “I hope that the committee will again approve this and help the people of southeastern Connecticut. This could be a creative way to support the completion of this most important roadway.”
After a relatively short debate, many Democrats voted in favor of the move, including Stillman and the committee leaders. Many Republicans, including Sen. Andrew Roraback, Sen. Anthony Guglielmo, and Rep. Sean Williams, voted no.
Earlier, the bipartisan compromise bill on alcohol calls for limited Sunday hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., as well as Memorial Day sales that would start this year for the first time if the bill is signed into law by then.
The legislators rejected most of the ideas proposed by Malloy, such as the sale of beer at convenience stores at gasoline stations and allowing bars to remain open until 2 a.m. They also rejected Malloy’s call for a complicated “medallion’’ system for owners to sell their package stores, and lawmakers want to limit one person to owning three package stores – rather than nine as originally proposed by Malloy. The committee also rejected Malloy’s plans to allow package stores to remain open until 10 p.m. seven days a week, and the latest closing now on weekdays will remain at 9 p.m.
A more complicated, sweeping deregulation of the liquor industry that was proposed by Malloy. Those changes would have forced hundreds of package stores out of business by giving an advantage to big-money, big-box retailers at the expense of low-margin, mom-and-pop package stores that are making small profits with small staffs, said Carrroll J. Hughes, the chief lobbyist for the package stores for the past 36 years.
The package stores got most of what they wanted – and they blocked the ideas that they opposed, such as selling beer at gasoline stations.
In another development, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly by 46 to 4 Monday in favor of regulating the controversial activity of mixed martial arts.
But that vote came only after debate on a key question: Is it barbaric or is it a sport?
Some legislators spoke strongly against the concept, while others said that the state needs to regulate an activity that is growing in popularity.
“It’s not something I’m interested in promoting in this state,” said state Sen. Andrea Stillman, who is the previous co-chairwoman of the legislature’s public safety committee. ”I understand this is going on. … If this is eventually allowed in Connecticut, I would want to see it regulated. … I just don’t understand the purpose of the activity.”
Rep. Ted Moukawsher agreed with Stillman, saying, “To me, it’s just brutality – masquerading as entertainment.”
But 46 others voted in favor of the measure.
“It is unregulated at this time, so perhaps it is a step in the right direction,” said Widlitz, the committee co-chairwoman who supported the bill.
“This is a very popular activity, particularly among young people,” said Sen. Gary LeBeau of East Hartford. “We should regulate the activity – going forward. We need to regulate and ensure that we’re in the game here.”
Many Republicans, including Frantz and Guglielmo, voted in favor of the bill.