Ricker’s issue could lead to overhaul of state’s alcohol laws

By Dustin Beach

INDIANAPOLIS – A dispute over who can sell cold beer could push lawmakers to rewrite the state’s alcohol laws.

Ricker’s convenience stores began selling cold carry-out beer after obtaining a restaurant license for two of their locations by selling made-to-order Tex-Mex style food. That’s left lawmakers questioning how the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission decided to hand out a license.

“It continues to baffle me as to how the ATC arrived at these decisions,” said Sen. President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, compares the state’s alcohol laws to a crumbling foundation of a house. Lehman encouraged fellow lawmakers to rewrite some of the state’s laws about alcohol, many of which have not been rewritten since Prohibition. Photo By Dustin Beach, TheStatehouseFile.com

Many lawmakers agree that major changes need to be made to the state’s alcohol laws, many of which have not been changed since the end of Prohibition. Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, likened the state’s old alcohol laws to an old house, when talking about how antiquated some of the laws are.

“We continue to hang more and more on a struggling or a stressed foundation,” he said during a conference committee Thursday.

Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, suggested starting from scratch on Indiana’s alcohol laws.

“Just trash it. Period,” he said in the same meeting.

Lawmakers gathered Thursday to discuss the future of House Bill 1496, a bill originally intended to allow a minor on the grounds of a winery if a parent or guardian is present. The bill also would allow a winery or brewer to employ a family member who is still a minor.

But the Senate added an amendment that would allow businesses like Ricker’s to keep selling until their permit expired. The stores would then have to have 60 percent of the alcohol sales come from on-site consumption before being allowed to continue.

“The 60 percent, we’re working on it,” said Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, who originally proposed the 60 percent amendment. “We will work on that together, as a body, and make sure that there is nobody that would fall through the cracks.”

Since the Ricker’s discovery, legislators have learned even nail salons and hardware stores have secured restaurant permits to sell alcohol.  Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, is uncomfortable with punishing these businesses since they legally obtained the licenses.

Jay Ricker, owner of Ricker’s convenience stores, said he’s encouraged by the discussion but remains weary of the legislative process for his business.

“I’ve been through this process enough to know, I kind of think we’re going the right direction, and then what I see come out later is just diametrically opposed to that,” he said.

Conference committee chairman, Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, said legislators will continue working on House Bill 1496 over the next week.

Dustin Beach is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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