IN: Complex rules for alcohol sales prompts in-depth review
By Maureen Hayden, Goshen News Statehouse Reporter
June 3, 2016
INDIANAPOLIS — A race-weekend ritual for those who live near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway involves stocking up beer the Saturday before the Indianapolis 500.
That way, they’ll have plenty to sell to out-of-staters who arrive in Indiana unaware that they cannot fill their coolers to take the track.
The off-the-books rate for a cold can of brew is $5 — a price that thirsty fans seem willing to pay to get around an old “blue law” on the books since 1935.
“It’s a stupid law,” said Sharon Shotts, a decades-long resident of Speedway who rents her lawn for race-day parking. “People get out of their cars and ask, ‘Where can I get beer?” And I have to say, ‘You can’t.’”
Actually, they can. But only if they want to buy pricier beer by the cup at the track, or buy beer by the glass at a neighborhood restaurant, or buy it by the growler at a brewpub blocks away from the track.
They can’t buy a six-pack on Sunday at the nearby Kroger, nor at the Pitstop Liquors near the track entrance.
Such convoluted rules for beer-buying, created as the state has gradually chipped away at the sweeping 1935 Liquor Control Act, now have lawmakers taking a new look at the distribution and sale of alcohol.
This summer a legislative committee appointed by Republican and Democratic leaders will dive into Prohibition-era laws to determine if their approach to regulating and taxing alcohol is still worthwhile.
“I think Hoosiers are more than ready for it,” said Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, the retiring chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, which has wrestled with the laws for years.
The 1935 laws were written at a time when alcohol was seen as the “demon’s drink,” Demody said. Changing mores and other factors – including a burgeoning industry of artisanal beers, wines and spirits — have created a new environment.
“Times have changed,” he said. “We need to ask, ‘Does an 80-year-old law still make sense?’”
Dermody has called for a top-to-bottom review of alcohol statutes, some of which have an even deeper history. The ban on Sunday sales dates to 1816, when the state was created from a territory that already prohibited alcohol sales to Indians and soldiers.
Dermody’s push for a review came after another failed attempt to expand Sunday alcohol sales. Competing retailers unwilling to cede control of the alcohol market derailed it.
The upcoming review is supposed to include a look at how alcohol is sold through a system created in 1935, and frequently challenged in courts, that separates alcohol-makers from retailers through distributors.
Accomplishing all of that is no easy task.
Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, another member of the House Public Policy Committee, predicts lawmakers this summer are likely to call for further research by some kind of blue-ribbon commission.
“It’s a big task to try to undertake,” he said.
The alcohol laws are complex, for example allowing consumers to buy cold beer at liquor stores but not grocery stores. And, such debates are awash in money and politics.
Just in the past eight years, for example, Indiana’s biggest beer distributor, Monarch Beverages, has spent millions of dollars on lobbyists and lawyers in a bid for a permit to distribute hard liquor, too.
So far, it’s failed. But all of that money and activity has called attention to the decades-old system that controls alcohol access.
Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, ran up against the old alcohol laws as he tried to help small businesses.
Clere helped convince other lawmakers to bypass a Sunday ban on packaged alcohol sales to allow brew pubs, craft wineries and artisan distilleries to sell take-out bottles of their products.
Clere said he supports a broader look at the state of the state’s alcohol laws — and the sometimes convoluted answer to the simple question of where someone goes to get a beer.