With so many tense and emotional topics moving at the Statehouse, I want to focus this week on something we can all agree on: Indiana’s alcohol laws are ridiculous, and lawmakers are about to double down on one of the worst ones.
I am talking about selling cold alcohol — wine, beer, liquor.
Indiana is currently the only state that regulates the sale of alcohol based on temperature.
Current law only allows liquor stores to sell cold or chilled beer. Grocery, convenience and drug stores have wanted that right for years to no avail.
All licensed stores can sell cold wine.
And now we come to ciders, seltzers and mixed cocktail beverage like a Cutwater or High Noon. These drinks are growing in popularity and are sold chilled now in Kroger and other retail stores.
Just this week I stopped at my local store and there was a case full of cold Lime Margaritas, Vodka seltzers, Mules and premixed Cosmopolitans. It has been this way for several years.
But liquor stores are pushing to block those sales, giving them the exclusive right to sell all cold alcohol except for wine.
The House added the language into Senate Bill 20, but it is unclear if the Senate will go along with it.
Supporters say the law is gray on the topic — that is, it neither explicitly allows groceries, drug and convenience stores to sell cold liquor and mixed beverages, nor does it explicitly ban it.
“In the absence of language retailers have taken it upon themselves to move these products into coolers,” said Matt Bell, lobbyist for the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers – aka, the liquor store industry.
He wants lawmakers to take the logical step and leave cold liquor sales just to them.
But the other retailers are calling foul.
“It’s unprecedented to take away authority to sell a product our members have been furnishing safely and effectively for many years,” said Melissa Coxey, president of the Indiana Retail Council.
Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said in committee that this debate isn’t about customer preference but public policy.
“What we don’t want is immediate consumption outside of your home …,” he said. “We continue to have more and more problems around alcohol when people drive.”
But this isn’t about drunk driving. It’s about giving high-powered liquor lobbyists exactly what they want and ignoring consumers once again.
After all, I can still pick up a cold margarita from the liquor store and drive the same as from Meijer. And I can buy cold wine anywhere I want. These inconsistencies never end.
I grew up in Ohio and visited some college friends recently. While making dinner we decided we needed wine so we jumped in the car and went to a drive-thru store. You read that right, we drove through and bought cold wine. Then we took it home to drink it.
And by the way, Ohio has better drunk driving rates than Indiana. A recent Forbes article found that in Indiana 242 drivers received a DUI citation for every 100,000 drivers. In Ohio, that number is 160.
Look, if lawmakers want to have a full debate next year then fine. But do it right.
File a solo bill. Have a public hearing in both chambers where consumers are given proper notification and can have their voices heard. In this year’s bill, the amendment wasn’t publicized and only alcohol stakeholders were on hand to testify.
And by all means, give Hoosiers what they want (the last statewide poll on the matter was 2017 with 61% supporting expanding cold beer sales).
Somehow, all the other states have figured out how to do this. If Indiana won’t join that pack, at least don’t add to the problem.
Niki Kelly is editor-in-chief of indianacapitalchronicle.com, where this commentary first appeared. She has covered Indiana politics and the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 for publications including the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Send comments to [email protected].