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Alcohol to-go is permanent in Texas. So why is it still illegal to buy liquor on Sundays?

Posted: 5:47 PM, May 12, 2021
Updated: 2021-05-27 23:22:19-04

For those who have been in Texas for awhile, you know the drill. You have have an event on Sunday, but you realize you don't have enough liquor.

If it's the day before, you have plenty of time to run out and pick up a few bottles. But if you come to this realization on a Sunday, you're out of luck.

Now this is not a new rule, but in the age of instant deliveries and alcohol-to-go, many are wondering if the restriction is appreciated or antiquated.

"Well, we opened this liquor store just about four months ago, so we are fairly new on the block," said VJ Gupta, director of 18th Street Liquor Store.

Opening a business during a pandemic is not ideal, but Gupta says they've had some help and lots of support.

"The community is really supportive. It didn't take much time for us to learn what the community really needed," he said.

So far business has been good. Well, for the six days they're allowed to open.

Liquor stores and other entities that sell alcohol are limited under blue laws.

"A blue law is a restriction on the sale of some items. Often it's a restriction on the sale of liquor, and those laws can be enforced by a state or by a city or by the county or by an level of government," explained Dale Carpenter, constitutional law professor at SMU Dedman School of Law.

Experts say blue laws in Texas have been around since the 19th century. Most are now a thing of the past, except when it comes to liquor stores.

In the state of Texas, liquor stores must remain closed on Sundays and some holidays, including New Year's Day and Christmas Day. When it comes to beer and wine, you can still purchase it on Sundays, just not before noon.

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Gupta says the law doesn't fit the times.

"A lot of the things have changed from when it was passed back in the years. Lifestyles have changed. People are working odd hours to make ends meet, and I think they should also have the privilege of going out shopping on Sundays as those who may not be working those hours," he said.

Almost every legislative session, there's a push to extend liquor store hours in Texas. This year, it's under House Bill 937.

HB 937

But this year, there seems to be a shift when it comes to alcohol in Texas.

Governor Greg Abbott has signed a bill to permanently allow alcohol-to-go. Now Texans can take a Sunday drive to pick up their favorite mixed drink from their favorite restaurant. But they can't pick up the ingredients to make a drink themselves until Monday.

We asked our Facebook fans their thoughts on opening liquor stores on Sundays.

A majority said they would support the change, but some said Sundays should still be saved as a "family day."

"In my eyes, every day should be a family day. So if liquor is involved, why can't it still be a family day?" questioned Gupta. "I would have a very soft corner when someone would say that we need church time on Sundays. Yes, that could be a debating factor you have, but again, then the argument would be when you already have a portion of alcohol getting sold seven days, why would the liquor stores not be open?"

Gupta brings up a good point. Most people observe religious obligations on Sundays, but the United States honors the separation of church and state. So are these blue laws constitutional?

"As long as the government can satisfy the idea that it has a secular basis, it can go ahead and enforce the law, and there's no problem with doing so simply because it happens to coincide with a group's religious beliefs," said Carpenter. "Historically, trade associations supported blue laws, as did labor unions because they wanted the day off, at least one day that would be more or less uniform, and that happened to coincide with religious beliefs, at least of some people, a lot of people, and that's the reason they stuck around."

So what happens if a business is caught selling liquor on a Sunday? The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) says it's a rare occurrence, but there is a protocol in place in case it happens.

"If we choose to move ahead without a warning or something of that nature, the possible penalty could be either a fine up to $300 or a potential suspension of their alcoholic permit if this is repeat behavior," said Chris Porter, public information officer for TABC. "However, in most cases when we do see a violation, it's something that perhaps somebody might be new to Texas, or they're unaware of the law, or it might be simply a case of their clock was simply off by 10 or 15 minutes, and so we'll issue a warning, and in almost every case that resolves the issue then and there."

It does not look like the Lone Star State will see a change in blue laws this legislative session, but Carpenter believes the pandemic could change that for the future.

"I think there's now a recognition that there's really not a good secular basis for laws like this, and moreover, it is an imposition on the liberty of businesses to decide how to run their own establishment," he explained.

Until that happens, Gupta says he and everyone at 18th Street will continue to serve Wacoans while following all laws and safety procedures.

"Most of the liquor stores take a lot of safety measures. We thoroughly check ID's. There shouldn't be any safety concerns, whether you're selling alcohol on a Sunday or a Monday or a Saturday," he said.