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Regulating Ricker and Liquor

Legislative leaders say turmoil over alcohol permit has forced long-needed overhaul of "antiquated" laws

The controversy over alcohol permits issued to two Ricker's convenience stores has thrown a wild card into the final weeks of the legislative session, but there is what one legislative leader calls a "silver lining."

Senate President Pro Tem David Long says what leaders consider a mistaken decision by a state board has forced what he acknowledges is an overdue rewrite of all Indiana alcohol laws. Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma say they're aiming for a blue-ribbon commission of experts and stakeholders similar to the group which pounded out a line-by-line overhaul of the Indiana Criminal Code. 

They say the challenge is what to do while that study is in progress. They're trying to prevent convenience stores or other nontraditional permit holders to follow Ricker's example and land scores of new permits which can't be easily undone.

Much of the debate has centered on restaurants' ability to sell carryout cold beer, a privilege normally denied to grocery and convenience stores. Ricker's expansion of burrito restaurants inside two of its stores allowed it to get a restaurant permit. But Bosma points out that permit also includes liquor and spirits. He says strict liquor store regulations designed to keep under-21 customers out don't apply to Ricker's. 

And Long and Bosma say the alcohol permit essentially turns the stores into liquor stores for the price of a 10-thousand-dollar restaurant permit -- instead of the nearly half-million paid by package stores. They warn leaving the law unchanged would open the door for thousands of new liquor stores. They say it's the legislature's responsibility to take charge of crafting a fair regulatory system, rather than allowing a single Alcohol and Tobacco Commission ruling to create a new system by default.

(Photo: Ryan McVay/Thinkstock)

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