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Bill would bring happy hour back to Indiana and allow carry out cocktails

House bill 1086 would allow for happy hour specials and cocktails for carry out
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Posted at 9:59 PM, Jan 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-23 21:59:52-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Happy hour is traditionally from four to six, but in Indiana happy hour prices aren't allowed. In fact, our archives show that happy hour was banned by the state legislature in 1985. Because of that law passed nearly 40 years ago, bars and restaurants in Indiana are only allowed to have specials on alcohol for an entire day.

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Bars are able to have alcohol for carryout purchases but only if the alcoholic beverage is in its original bottle or can. House bill 1086would not only allow for happy hour specials, it would also allow for customers to buy cocktails for carry out. Both are something restaurant owners say their customers are asking for.

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"Our out-of-town guests, they come into our restaurant and they expect happy hour just because they are from other cities,” Blake Fogelsong with Clancy's Hospitality said. “So, this is a normal thing in other cities. It's not new we are just looking to get up to speed."

Clancy’s Hospitality owns several restaurants across central Indiana, like the Fountain Room. Fogelsong says about 50 percent of their guests at that restaurant are from out of town and he consistently hears how they wish there were happy hour prices. 

However, not everyone is in favor of the changes. Mental Health America of Indiana testified in opposition of the bill. They say happy hour increases high risk drinking.

"Some of our surrounding states they have higher binge drinking rates then we do,” Lisa Hutcheson with Mental Health America of Indiana said. “Alcohol is a drug and it needs to be strictly regulated and having stronger regulations helps keep it out of the hands of minors and also those who should not be drinking, like those with substance abuse disorder."

During her testimony to the Public Policy committee, she highlighted how there were 817 deaths due to impaired driving, which she says is 19% of all traffic crash deaths.

She also mentions a a 2020NIH publication that looked at twelve studies that examined the effect of drink specials in seven countries between 1978 and 2018. Of these, 11 found a consistent positive association between drink specials and increased alcohol consumption, heavy drinking, and alcohol intoxication. Drink specials were also associated with expectations of higher consumption and modified attitudes and behaviors towards favorable views of drink specials. The promotion of discounted alcoholic beverages during happy hours may also disproportionally target vulnerable populations and may increase alcohol related crimes.

But the bill comes with several stipulations:

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  • Happy hour can only be four hours a day and no more than 15 hours a week.
  • Drink specials can't take place after 10 p.m.
  • For carryout, alcohol can only be sold in approved containers and they must be labeled stating they carry alcohol. (Below represents an example of what those containers would look like.)
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Restaurant owners say that these stipulations create safety guidelines that all the industry will have to follow which make them feel good about the legislation.

"You won’t be able to get it through Door Dash or anything you are going to have to come in through the restaurant or order it off an online website,” Fogelsong said. “So I think the safety precautions should be great. "

But Mental Health America hopes that lawmakers will proceed with caution and weigh the potential consequences of their decision.

"When we create alcohol policy we need to keep public health and mental health in mind,” Hutcheson said.

The bill would also not allow bars or restaurants to have bottomless alcohol options or two for one offers. It also requires bars and restaurants to carry alcohol liability insurance, something most establishments carry.

The legislation passed out of the house public policy committee with a vote of 12-1 and now heads to the house for consideration.