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House Tries to Stabilize Alcohol Playing Field With New Limits on Permits

Bill allows Ricker's cold beer sales, but puts other nontraditional restaurants on ice to allow for comprehensive review of laws

You'd still be able to buy a cold sixpack to go at two Ricker's convenience stores, under the latest attempt to reset Indiana alcohol law after the stores won their permits.

The Ricker's permits exposed a gap between what legislators consider a "restaurant" and how the law actually defines one. Indiana law allows carryout cold beer sales only at restaurants and liquor stores. But Ricker's expanded the fast-food Tex-Mex section of its stores in Sheridan and Columbus and was granted a restaurant permit.

Legislators have noted restaurant permits have been granted to other nontraditional outlets, including nail salons, a hardware store and a laundromat. House Majority Leader Matthew Lehman says the controversy might lead to a new category of permit -- he says the problems begin with the attempts to shoehorn other businesses into the restaurant definition.

A House committee voted 9-4 to essentially freeze those hard-to-classify permits while legislators conduct an in-depth review of alcohol laws this summer, with an eye to a comprehensive overhaul next year. That debate could include not only cold beer regulations but other long-running controversies such as Sunday sales

The bill also fixes a provision which would have pulled the rug out from upscale wine shops, which are classified as grocery stores. Doug Pendleton, whose Grapevine Cottage stores in Zionsville and Fishers sell imported meats and cheeses, warned he'd go out of business if he couldn't sell wine any more.

The new version drops attempts to revoke Ricker's permits, but limits other carryout permits to restaurants who draw at least 30% of their revenue from dine-in alcohol sales. Indiana Retail Council president Grant Monahan says that spares Pendleton's wine shops, but says he's still concerned about unintended consequences.

House Public Policy Chairman Ben Smaltz says legislators need to freeze the playing field while they sort out what the law should be. He says if legislators don't take any action at all, they'll face hundreds of new permits by the time they reconvene in January.

(Photo: vladans/Thinkstock)

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