INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
A battle is brewing at the Indiana Statehouse as lawmakers worked Wednesday
to keep legislation alive that addresses a legal loophole used by Ricker’s
convenience stores to sell cold beer.
Both chambers faced
a procedural deadline to make changes to bills they want to keep alive. What
emerged from House and Senate floor sessions were two different approaches,
with one chamber - the House - calling for a study on overhauling the
state’s complicated alcohol laws.
The final details
will be worked out in the days ahead as the legislative session draws to a
close in roughly two weeks.
Under Indiana law,
convenience stores can sell warm beer. But GOP leaders, who were clearly
irked by Ricker’s, say the intent of the law is to only allow for liquor
stores to sell cold beer.
that by building restaurants at two locations and obtaining restaurant
permits that allow for carryout sales of cold beer.
everything they were asked to do under the law,” said Rep. Tony Cook, a
Cicero Republican who has one of the stores in his district. “They had all
kinds of support from the local folks there in my district. They put
together a very classy store.”
The House proposal
would allow for stores such as Ricker’s to continue selling so long as their
permit is not revoked or suspended. But it would prevent others from jumping
on the bandwagon for a period of two years. That pause is intended to give
lawmakers time to study the best way to do a major rewrite of the law.
The Senate version
would allow continued sales until their alcohol permits expire in one year.
After that, stores such as Ricker’s could renew only if 60 percent of their
alcohol sales were from on-site consumption - a high bar to meet.
Neither chamber set
out with a goal to rework Indiana’s booze laws, which are rooted in
Prohibition. But their hand was forced by Ricker’s, which also has the
permits to start selling at a handful of other locations.
Now the Republican
majority, which frequently touts a free market ideology, is wading in on
matters that will determine who can and can’t operate in the state’s cold
and Tobacco Commission has placed a hold on the renewal 367 restaurant
alcohol licenses. Chairman David Cook said during a Tuesday meeting that the
pause was prompted by the Legislature. Restaurants that are on hold will be
granted a 90-day permit extension while legislation is pending.
stores, which have donated generously to lawmakers and have considerable
influence, are pushing hard to maintain their current hold on the market.
During a committee hearing last week they lashed out. Patrick Tamm, CEO of
Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, said Ricker’s “clearly is
flouting the law.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb
says his administration “followed the law” when the ATC issued the permits.
There are also a handful of other similar stores around the state that have
quietly sold cold beer to go for years.