Bringing alcohol code into the 21st century Legislators face two obstacles: inertia and powerful liquor lobby.
The need to overhaul Indiana’s antiquated and confounding alcohol laws is like the weather. Everybody talks about it, but nobody ever does anything. Every year, legislation is introduced to bring some of the alcohol code into the 21st century, and every year it dies.
But this year was a little different. A populist uproar was created when legislators closed a loophole that had allowed convenience store owner Jay Ricker to sell cold beer. Never give people something, even accidentally, and then take it away.
So now, finally, legislative leaders have announced a two-year study commission to recommend ways to overhaul Hoosier liquor laws. “I think the public probably wants that … and we’re reacting to that sentiment,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.
The committee will face two big obstacles.
One is the reluctance to change inherent in Indiana’s brand of conservatism. On the inertia scale, we fall somewhere between “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and “But we’ve always done it this way.” Many of our liquor laws, covering everything from how alcohol can be advertised to who can sell what kind of booze, date to the Prohibition era and blue laws designed to make sure the legal system followed religious conventions.
The other is the fight that will be put up by powerful and big-spending liquor lobbying groups with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. That’s such a concern that Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, have pledged to bar alcohol permit holders and alcohol industry lobbyists from serving on the study commission, which will be composed of lawmakers and laypeople. They also plan to appoint someone who is not a member of the General Assembly, where liquor interests have considerable influence, to serve as its chairman.
One thing legislative leaders can’t do is prevent liquor interests from donating money to lawmakers on the study committee. All they can do, Bosma says, is remind legislators to be “mindful” of their “integrity.” Or, perhaps, they could take the radical step of asking lawmakers on the committee to decline liquor lobby donations for the duration.
But, heavens, legislators might say, we’ve never done that before. Yes, we know, you’ve done it about as often as you’ve updated the state’s liquor laws.