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Carryout Cold Beer Decision Now Rests With Holcomb

Legislators overwhelmingly approve bill putting "fence" around alcohol permit rules while they review entire rulebook

Legislators have voted to freeze carryout cold beer permits until next April, to buy time for an in-depth study of Indiana's alcohol laws.

Both the House and Senate gave overwhelming approval to what one legislator calls a "time out," sparked by the granting of alcohol permits to two burrito restaurants located inside Ricker's convenience stores in Sheridan and Columbus. Legislators have slammed that decision as upending three decades of laws and court precedent declaring convenience stores off limits for carryout cold beer sales.

Until the Ricker's cases, legislators had relied on a provision instructing the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to assess "the character of a business" to decide whether it was a convenience store. The bill requires any future applicants for carryout permits to prove at least 60-percent of their alcohol sales are to customers drinking at their tables.

The bill leaves Ricker's carryout permits intact until they expire at year's end, but would allow an extension until April 1. By that time, House Public Policy Chairman Ben Smaltz says a study committee will have had time to review not only the definitions of which businesses can sell what kind of alcohol, but the rest of the often-ridiculed alcohol rulebook, including Indiana's ban on Sunday sales.

Smaltz says carryout cold beer sales, which are reserved to restaurants and liquor stores, are the only sales restricted by the bill -- in-restaurant sales and sales of unchilled beer are unaffected

But businesses which received their permits before Ricker's did can keep them without restriction. Legislators added that rule after struggling to find a sales threshold that didn't create unintended consequences. But Ricker's owner Jay Ricker has blasted the November dividing line as one chosen specifically to target his permits. He issued a statement after the House vote slamming the bill as "punitive" and "a blow against Hoosier fairness." He's already said he'll lobby Governor Holcomb to veto the measure.

Ricker says there's been overwhelming public support for his stores and restaurants, but just 19 legislators voted against the bill in the House and Senate combined. It passed the Senate 43-6 and the House 84-13.

Ricker has complained the bill makes no mention of the promised study of alcohol laws, but House Speaker Brian Bosma says legislative leaders plan to add it to the portfolio of an existing alcohol study committee created last year. If the study isn't complete in time for next year's session, he says legislators can always extend the freeze, and Ricker's permits, for another year.

(Photo: vladans/Thinkstock)

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