Top Indiana lawmakers put cold beer bills on ice

AP News
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Posted: Jan 18, 2018 6:14 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The top two Republicans in the Indiana Legislature said Thursday that legislation that would overturn an unusual law and allow more stores to sell cold beer is dead this legislative session.

But both conceded the issue won't go away and suggested that a deal could be struck in the coming years.

"A lot of these things take some time," said House Speaker Brian Bosma of Indianapolis. "Gradualism is a part of legislative achievement."

Senate leader David Long of Fort Wayne added: "There are ways to solve this ... I think it can get done."

Indiana is the only state that restricts which retailers can sell carryout cold beer. The GOP leaders' comments come after a Senate panel voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday against a proposal that would have changed that.

Currently, grocers, convenience stores and pharmacies can sell cold wine and warm beer. But the sale of cold beer is primarily restricted to liquor stores, whose owners exercise their considerable clout to keep it that way.

For decades, lawmakers have agreed with that approach. But, more recently, that has started to change, despite an inherent resistance to change that is touted as an inherent part of the state's character.

Indeed, the fact the bill was even given a hearing was a sign of "progress," said Long. Other lawmakers have said it was the first time in decades — if not ever — that a committee had taken up such a proposal.

Long challenged supporters of cold beer legislation to come up with a plan and come back next year. Proponents say that's exactly what they did, but Senate Public Policy committee Chairman Ron Alting, a Lafayette Republican, refused to hear their proposals at the hearing.

"That's the chairman's prerogative," Long said. "People that don't win tend to say things should have been different."

The bill was voted down on a 9-1 vote. Under Senate rules, a bill defeated by such decisive numbers can't be revived in the same session, Long said.

However, it happened last year when the Senate revived a defeated bill that made the state schools superintendent an appointed position, rather than an elected one. The measure, a priority of Gov. Eric Holcomb, was later approved and signed it into law.

Instead, lawmakers say they want to focus this year on a different alcohol priority: repealing the state's prohibition-era ban on carryout Sunday alcohol sales.

It appears to have considerable support, though similar efforts have been scuttled in the past. The most recent push to repeal the law foundered when big box retailers and package liquor stores couldn't come to terms.

The liquor store lobby thought it would allow big-box stores to siphon away considerable business on a major shopping day. And big box stores balked when changes were made to the bill to impose significant restrictions on how and where alcohol could be sold, including a requirement to keep hard liquor behind a special counter.

"I'm hopeful that we can put that one to bed and get it behind us and then move on," Bosma said.