Alcohol commission begins work, looks at retail permits

The Statehouse will again be talking liquor as the Indiana Alcohol Code Revision Commission holds its first hearing Tuesday.

Former Indiana Sen. Beverly Gard is leading the special commission that was convened by the Legislature to examine the state’s alcoholic beverage laws during the 2017 and 2018 interim sessions. This session, the commission is expected to focus on the retail sector and then make recommendations to the General Assembly.

In announcing the formation of the commission, Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said, “All issues are on the table as we begin this process.”

The commission has scheduled six meetings with the final one Nov. 14. Only the first meeting, scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Senate Chamber, has an agenda. The commission will be reviewing the state’s alcoholic beverage retailer and dealer permit classifications and soliciting testimony on topics the public would like the commission to study.

Bills about alcohol have been regularly introduced into the Statehouse in recent sessions. However, during the 2017, the issue exploded when the Indiana convenience store chain Ricker’s expanded its food service into a restaurant then, courtesy of a loophole in the law, qualified for liquor permits that enabled the business to legally sell cold beer at two of its stores.

House Enrolled Act 1496, authored by Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn stitched up the loophole by requiring permit holders to have at least 60 percent of the alcoholic beverages they sell be consumed on the licensed premises.  

Although lawmakers addressed the situation, rancor in the Statehouse led to the creation of the commission.

Another topic that may be considered by the commission is Indiana’s three-tier system which, in part, restricts distributors from carrying all three kinds of alcoholic beverages — beer, wine and liquor. Monarch Beverage Co. in Indianapolis and its corporate sister, E.F. Transit, Inc., has been challenging the state’s prohibition on joint wholesaling in state and federal courts, claiming the law is unconstitutional.

The company has lost five court cases but another is still pending before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.   

In E.F. Transit, Inc. v. Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, et al, 16-3641, E.F. Transit, which maintains it is a trucking company, is being unlawfully barred from providing its transportation services to liquor wholesalers. Oral arguments were April 10, 2017, by the three-judge panel of Frank Easterbrook, Ilana Diamond Rovner and Diane Sykes.  

The commission is comprised of legislators and laypersons appointed by majority and minority leadership in the Indiana Senate and House of Representatives. In addition to Gard, the group has four senators, four representatives and eight lay members

The legal community has several representatives on the commission.

Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, is an attorney in private practice along with lay member Randall Woodruff of Woodruff Law Offices, P.C., in Anderson.

Also, LaPorte Senior Judge William Boklund; Indiana University Maurer School of Law associate professor Gina-Gail Fletcher; and Douglas Kowalski, now the risk manager for Indianapolis Public Schools but formerly the executive secretary and hearing judge for the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission are all on the commission.

The other lay members are Lt. Terry Bauer, retired Indiana State Excise Police officer; Jennifer Bott, dean of the Miller College of Business at Ball State University; Keith Byers, who operates the family-owned company of Automotive Color & Supply Corp. in Fort Wayne; and Alex Huskey, former chair of the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission and now chancellor of the Ivy Tech Community College’s Marion campus.

The other legislators are Republican Sens. Ron Alting and Eric Bassler and Reps. Matt Lehman and Smaltz; and Democratic Sen. David Niezgodski and Reps. Terri Jo Austin and Philip GiaQuinta.    

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