After years of teasing Hoosiers that they might reform Indiana’s liquor laws, state legislators seem ready to get serious this summer.
A new study commission will begin unraveling our complicated tangle of statutes governing how alcohol is sold. The task is so formidable, the commission is being given two years to do its work.
The quirks in Indiana’s laws start with a ban on Sunday sales — a rule that has been riddled with exceptions of all sorts in recent years.
Hoosiers also have to decipher which stores can sell cold beer and which have to keep it at room temperature.
Locally, state Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, has been appointed to serve on the committee.
“During the summer and fall, the newly created Alcohol Code Revision Commission will take a deep dive into Indiana’s antiquated alcohol laws, focusing on possible changes to retail sales,” Smaltz said in response to his selection. “Over the next two years, I’ll work together with my fellow commission members to identify common-sense solutions to bring Indiana’s alcohol policies into the 21st century.”
In past centuries, lawmakers concocted our set of laws with an eye toward protecting this or that segment of the alcohol and retail industries. In their defense, they sometimes were legislating under the influence — of campaign contributions from special interests.
Like a college student’s pyramid of beer cans, it all began to collapse a few months back when the Ricker’s convenience store chain found a loophole that allowed it to sell cold beer — a right the lawmakers intended to reserve for liquor stores.
Legislators scrambled to plug the dike and at the same time saw the need to simplify.
For a quick education on the complexity of Indiana’s alcohol laws, try reading the summary of this year’s Public Law 270, authored by Smaltz. The synopsis alone runs 563 words and rivals the fine print on a credit card agreement for inscrutability.
Our worry is that lawmakers are getting down to business because an alcohol-industry interest became threatened, and not because consumers complained.
If consumers are looking for hope, they can find it in the guidelines for the new commission: alcohol permit holders and alcohol industry lobbyists cannot serve on the study group, and its chairman must be a lay person who is not a member of the Legislature.
If legislators are looking for better results in alcohol laws, how about trying something different? This time, they should approach the job with a goal of achieving something ordinary Hoosiers want, with rules they can understand.