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A Way Forward on Cold Beer

Chair of alcohol study committee suggests more excise police resources a prerequisite for reconsidering looser beer rules

(INDIANAPOLIS) - A study committee recommended against expanding cold beer sales in Indiana. But a less-talked-about recommendation could eventually change that "no" to "yes."

The panel has recommended higher permit fees to sell alcohol, higher fines for violations, and higher fines for alcohol-related crimes like DUI. The committee estimates that would raise more than two-million dollars a year, which it suggests should be split evenly between helping counties to establish "problem-solving" courts for people with drug and alcohol issues, and beefing up the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission's enforcement ability.

Committee chair and former Greenfield Senator Bev Gard says Indiana has just 71 excise officers to police the whole state. She says it's conceivable the state could revisit the question of allowing more stores to sell beer cold if it has the resources to conduct compliance checks and improve its ability to compile and review data. 

House Speaker Brian Bosma called Indiana's lengthy alcohol code "antiquated" when the legislature established the study panel. But Gard and Lafayette Republican Ron Alting, who's likely to be in charge of any Senate hearings on alcohol bills, say that description and other criticisms are unfair. They say the law can be improved, but emphasize alcohol is a product with well-known consequences to society -- Alting notes it's the most-abused drug in both Indiana and the nation. He and Gard say Indiana's system does an effective job of controlling who can buy alcohol without creating undue burdens.

And Alting says while Indiana is the only state to make a distinction between selling beer warm or chilled, its laws are less restrictive than other states in other respects. For instance, it's one of the few states which lets groceries and pharmacies sell hard liquor.

Alting rejects charges that political contributions by the liquor and grocery industries affect the legislature's path on the issue, and says polls commissioned by supporters of cold beer, showing a majority of Hoosiers in favor of broadened access, won't be a factor either. He notes polls show even more support for legalizing marijuana. 

The study committee did recommend legalizing alcohol sales on Sundays.

The General Assembly convenes for the 10-week session January 3.

(Photo: vladans/Thinkstock)


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