Saturday, June 29, 2019

A Mystery Solved And An Abuse Corrected

Last year, the Indiana General Assembly finally succeeded in putting an end to the state's Sunday-only prohibition of the "carryout" sale of alcohol.  Though what the legislature left in place still needs improvement (the Indiana Code now permits carryout sales on Sundays, but only from 12 PM to 8 PM; for every other day of the week, these sales are permitted from 7 AM to 3 AM the following day), it has now at least made some progress that past General Assemblies had inexplicably struggled with.

While Indiana's Sunday-only prohibition of "carryout" alcohol sales was still in effect, I discussed some of the bizarre and seemingly unconstitutional (as violations of Indiana's constitution, not of the United States Constitution) exceptions to it which had at some point been written into the Indiana Code.  In one post, I gave extra attention to one that was a particularly transparent abuse -- one which, in using population ranges to identify the cities and counties to which the benefit of a certain exemption would be limited, designed one of those population ranges to extend the exemption to cities with populations between 4,950 and 5,000.  The only "mystery" was the question of which city that population range was meant to identify -- it was obvious that the General Assembly that had set that range (and any General Assembly which was responsible for that range's counterparts in older versions of the Indiana Code; the range had already been adjusted at least once to reflect a change in the population of its target city) intended to identify and extend the exemption to a specific city, using a narrow population range to identify the city in place of the city's name.  (Presumably, someone was under the impression that Article 4, Section 23 of the Indiana Constitution, which limits the General Assembly's power to make special and local laws, would be no obstacle so long as the General Assembly identified the place or places where a local law was to apply without identifying them by name.  Presumably, that "someone" also thought that this was clever.)  When I last wrote about this, I had been unable to figure out which city the occasionally-adjusted population range that appeared in IC 7.1-3-1-25(a)(7) was meant to identify.

Last month, I decided to look into whether I could obtain online (in sufficient detail, including the population numbers for each Indiana city and county) the U.S. Census data that the General Assembly would presumably have used in establishing and updating the population range in IC 7.1-3-1-25(a)(7).  I found the census data that I needed from both 2000 and 2010, and comparing the populations of Indiana cities with the population range appearing in IC 7.1-3-1-25(a)(7) (comparing the 2000 data with the population range required as of 2006 and comparing the 2010 data with the population range as modified in 2012), I was able to determine that the city of Whiting, Indiana is the city which that absurdly narrow population range was meant to identify.  I still have no idea what the purpose was of extending to Whiting an exemption that was withheld from so many other cities (and counties) in Indiana.

However, I am pleased to report that during its session earlier this year, the Indiana General Assembly revised IC 7.1-3-1-25, eliminating all traces of that section's former abuse of population ranges and giving its provisions uniform operation throughout the state (just as the Indiana Constitution requires!).  I am even more pleased by this than I would otherwise have been because the General Assembly appears to have done this on its own initiative, without being under any political pressure that I am aware of to do so, and even though it would be difficult to benefit politically by fixing something that would take such a long time to explain and that directly affects so few people.

I may yet discover what it actually was that led the current General Assembly to (seemingly spontaneously) clean up IC 7.1-3-1-25, but for the moment, while I still have the luxury of enjoying this, I am going to continue to entertain the extraordinary possibility that a legislature was motivated simply by a desire to cure the previous version of this section either of its absurdity and impropriety or of its unconstitutionality.

UPDATE (June 30, 2019, 5:40 PM EST): Video of committee proceedings (specifically, from a meeting of the Indiana House of Representatives' Public Policy Committee on February 6, 2019) concerning the bill which has now revised and corrected IC 7.1-3-1-25, as discussed above, provides evidence of the General Assembly's true motive (or at least of the motive of the bill's author, Rep. Ben Smaltz) for fixing that section of the Indiana Code.  It appears that this action really was motivated by a recognition of the absurdity and impropriety of the way that that section had used population ranges and by a desire to make Indiana's alcohol laws more rational.  To witness this for yourself (using the link that I just provided), view the video of the Wednesday, February 6 meeting and move the video ahead to 41:41.  Feel free to take pleasure in this; we should savor these moments whenever we find them.  After all: Somebody has done something good!

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