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4/7/2017 12:25:00 PM
Ricker's owner: 1930s mentality on beer won out in Indiana

Kaitlin L. Lange, Evansville Courier & Press

The House killed a bill Thursday that would have allowed Ricker’s to renew its two liquor licenses.

Instead lawmakers will use the Senate’s more restrictive version as a starting point for negotiations on the future of Indiana’s cold beer sales. When Ricker’s liquor license expires in nine months, they likely won’t be allowed to renew it, based on the current language.

A day earlier Ricker’s outlook was more rosy, as Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, amended the existing bill to grandfather Ricker’s and other convenience stores already selling cold beer.

"We should be applauding this entrepreneurial spirit, not trying to stifle it," Cook said before the amendment passed.

The bill died when author Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, refrained from calling the bill for a vote Thursday.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said they weren’t able to get enough consensus behind the legislation. One deciding factor for many lawmakers was the large difference in price between the licenses the liquor stores have to obtain to sell cold carryout beer and the significantly cheaper licenses the convenience stores are operating under.

The Senate’s more restrictive version passed 40-8 after Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, warned lawmakers it was the only vehicle left to solve the cold beer question this session. The bill will now head to conference committee — and could still evolve further.

Ricker's owner Jay Ricker sent out a statement after the House version died, criticizing lawmakers for ignoring their constituents.

“Despite the overwhelming public outcry for fairness and transparency regarding Ricker’s restaurants and reforming our state's liquor laws, the House inexplicably decided that Indiana should remain in the 1930s," Ricker said. "The will of the people was thwarted today, and it is incumbent upon the leadership of the General Assembly to explain why."

While a few other convenience stores across the state have been selling cold carryout beer for years using restaurant liquor licenses, the Ricker’s drew the attention of lawmakers when it started selling cold beer at two of its Tex-Mex restaurants in Columbus and Sheridan stores recently.

While Gov. Eric Holcomb defended the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, the House and Senate leaders criticized the ATC for giving Ricker’s its license and pledged to fix the issue.

“We’re going to change the law to what the law really is,” Bosma said after finding out about Ricker’s. “I’m not upset with Ricker's at all. They’re creative folks, but I think we’ve had a commission that has ignored a long-standing policy that’s been debated in the legislative body where policy on alcohol matters should be determined.”

But fixing the cold beer dilemma has proven to not be a quick fix, with extensive amendments in both chambers, and people across the industry testifying of “collateral damage.”

The version that passed requires those who want to sell cold carryout beer to prove 60 percent of their sales come from on premises alcohol consumption. Opponents of that language say it could hurt other restaurants and breweries that offer growlers.

"Just remember what we’re doing right now is a knee-jerk reaction to one issue that occurred in Ricker’s in their convenience store," said Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville. "What they did is they complied with all the rules and regulations and they got something done that some entities don’t like, so therefore we’re going to fix this problem, and we’re going to catch some other people who are going to get caught up in the unintended consequences."

Whether intentional or not, Ricker’s sale of cold beer prompted legislators to look into the alcohol laws. Bosma has been carrying a book explaining Indiana’s alcohol laws all week to show his devotion to the cause. Many of the alcohol laws have been in place since the 1930s, and every year lawmakers file legislation in an attempt to modernize Indiana code concerning alcohol. Still, little progress has been made in an attempt to expand cold carryout beer sales or allow Sunday alcohol sales.

“My guess is it was kind of an intentional rocket into the whole system saying, ‘You know it’s time we dealt with this and modernize our alcohol world.’ For better or worse, we’re going to have to do that,” said Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

IndyStar reporter Tony Cook contributed to this story.

Related Stories:
• Ricker's gets a beer break in the Indiana House
• EDITORIAL: Freezing alcohol permits would hurt Hoosier economy
• Ricker's food truck rolls up to the Indiana Statehouse
• Indiana Legislature tackles cold beer loophole
• EDITORIAL: State's alcohol laws a mess
• EDITORIAL: Beginning to address Indiana alcohol laws
• Ricker's cold beer license likely to be short-term
• Governor signs Indiana alcohol sales bill

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