Dave Bangert, writing for the Lafayette Journal & Courier, has a good column on the Rickers’ end-run around the state’s liquor laws. Rickers convenience stores found a loophole that let it sell cold beer at its locations. (Apparently selling just enough food to get a restaurant permit to allowed cold carry out.) After the exploit came to light, the House sprang into action to stop others from taking advantage — tacking a Rickers provision onto a Senate Bill. The House committee report is here. The committee report contains an “intent of the General Assembly” provision. That’s always a red-flag in Indiana legislation. The substantive provisions of the law should speak for themselves. If there is an “intent” provision, that’s an indication that the substance is weak. (The Indiana Law Blog notes that use of preambles is discouraged by Indiana’s legislative drafting manual.)
Consider Sunday sales of retail alcohol. Getting rid of Indiana’s Prohibition-throwback vestige of blue laws really should be the low-hanging piece of Indiana’s weird setup.
But there is no such thing as easy when it comes to the marriage of convenience and the sense of Indiana’s carry-out alcohol regulations. Sunday sales is a frequent fight at the Statehouse, ultimately gummed up with sympathy for true liquor stores none too keen on allowing the sales of beer, wine and whiskey a seventh day – especially when that extra day is one of the biggest for weekly grocery shopping.
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Meanwhile, the General Assembly resigns itself to scolding state agencies that grant a taste of cold beer sales, no matter how closely a place such as Ricker’s followed the letter of the law to get it done. Lawmakers are left trying to explain their intent – in this case that “a restaurant within a grocery store, convenience store, specialty or gourmet food store, or drug store should not be given the privilege of selling cold beer or liquor for carryout” – while admitting they’re barely solving anything at all.
He offers a hint of optimism though, observing that – as with any struggle with alcohol – “the first step is admitting that you have a problem.”
I know it’s something of a tradition for people offering their opinions to get perspective from cab drivers. But, I haven’t been in a cab for awhile, so the best I can offer is “dudes I talked to while watching a high school baseball game.” They were generally amused and supportive of Rickers and didn’t think much of the General Assembly’s effort to tackle the situation. I think liquor laws are so jacked up, we have a celebration of the anti-hero situation going on here. I’m not sure if it’s Robin Hood or Billy the Kid or what, but ultimately we have laws that don’t make sense and, so, aren’t respected. When that happens, there tends to be admiration for someone like Rickers who gets around the arbitrary intent of the law while complying with the letter.
Still, in the scheme of things, the liquor laws are more of a low-level irritant. I don’t know that there will be a big push to make the General Assembly change things in the face of some pretty entrenched interests. As with the fable of the Hound and the Hare, the public is only running for its dinner while the liquor stores are running for their lives. I’m skeptical Indiana’s liquor law structure will change much. Probably it will just serve to be a drag on the General Assembly’s reputation (a phrase which, I recognize, makes for some easy jokes.)