Governor signs measure closing cold beer loophole

Legislation closing the legal loophole used by the Ricker's convenience store chain to sell cold beer at two locations was signed into law by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, who took the opportunity to also call for a review of the state's alcohol laws.

Indiana's antiquated liquor code allows convenience stores to sell warm beer and cold wine, but not cold beer. Ricker's bypassed that restriction and obtained permits allowing cold beer sales for its Columbus and Sheridan locations — angering some lawmakers who saw the permits as going against the clear intent of the Legislature.

Statehouse Republicans then drafted and passed language requiring that 60 percent of alcohol sales be for on-site drinking in order for permits to be renewed.

It grandfathers in establishments granted a permit before November 2016 and exempts fraternal clubs, golf courses and marinas, among other businesses.

It does not exempt Ricker's, which obtained their permits after the cutoff date.

"I'm disappointed that we were not grandfathered in with the bill the governor signed," Jay Ricker, head of the chain, told The Associated Press Tuesday after Holcomb's announcement. "However, I did appreciate the comments the governor made about the alcohol laws needing to be seriously looked at."

Holcomb, a Republican, wrote in a statement Tuesday that he signed the measure with an understanding that the state's alcohol laws need review and "common-sense changes."

House and Senate leaders have also vowed to take up booze laws in next year's legislative session.

The state's Alcohol and Tobacco Commission granted the two permits to Ricker's after the chain installed seating and began serving made-to-order food. Traditionally, only a few types of businesses have been able to sell carryout cold beer in the state, including package liquor stores, restaurants and taverns.

The powerful liquor lobby has pushed to maintain that exclusive right, donating generously to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Republican legislative leaders previously said the ATC's actions, in granting a convenience store chain permits for carryout cold beer sales, go against the spirit of the law.

In a statement, Ricker said his company had been "targeted by anti-free market forces whose sole objective is to limit the choices of Hoosier consumers" and vowed to continue to fight into next year's legislative session.

Under the bill, now law, Ricker's could continue to sell carryout cold beer until April 2018.

"Hopefully the prompting of the governor will get them to take a serious look this summer and have open testimony with lots of public input," Ricker said.

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