Area legislators are sponsoring a bill that would allow early Sunday liquor sales.

Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, and Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, recently sponsored a proposal that would lift the current prohibition on liquor sales from 6 to 9 a.m. Sundays and allow alcohol to be sold starting at 5 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. every other day of the week. 

Gilbert said the idea came from comments he heard last year from business owners. He said local convenience store owners want to sell alcohol at earlier times because overnight manufacturing shifts have been ending earlier in the morning, creating a market for the earlier sales.

“The bill is pro-business and pro-worker,” he said. 

The current restriction an example of a blue law in Maine, which restricted certain activities for religious reasons, Gilbert said. Twelve states have laws banning liquor sales on Sunday, while others, including Maine, have partial restrictions on Sunday liquor sales.

Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League, said he is concerned about Maine’s liquor restrictions increasingly eroding.

Conley said he opposes creating easier access to alcohol, especially in the earlier hours of the day.

“These stores aren’t opening earlier as a public service,” he said.

Gilbert is not the only one trying to whittle away at the state’s alcohol restrictions. Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, introduced a bill to allow liquor sales on Sunday to begin at 6 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day if it falls on a Sunday. 

Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, said as a longtime employee of the Verso Paper mill, he agreed to co-sponsor the bill because his co-workers often complain about not being able to buy liquor after working a Saturday night shift.

“I’m standing up for the shift workers of the world. Why can’t we who work weekends and nights enjoy a cold one?” he said.

Toby Hellgrin, 58, of Temple, said as a previous shift worker, he supports the bill. Hellgrin recently retired after 25 years at Verso Paper in Jay.

He said when he left the mill at 6 a.m. after a 12-hour shift, he didn’t understand why he was not allowed to buy liquor. 

“It’s not an alcohol problem. For us, 6 a.m. is like the afternoon,” he said.

Hellgrin said if the bill passes, he thinks the state and liquor retailers’ sales would increase. 

“The state can only benefit from this. I don’t see what the problem is,” he said.  

Debra Haines, manager at Ron’s Market in Farmington, said she does not see many people try to buy liquor early in the morning at her store, which is a  agency store.

“But I do understand shift workers might want to buy liquor in the mornings,” she said.

Haines said she doesn’t think the law will have a substantial effect on sales at the store. 

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee is scheduled to consider the bill today.

Kaitlin Schroeder— 861-9252
kschroeder@mainetoday.com