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The Journal Gazette

Friday, September 14, 2018 2:10 pm

Task force makes no changes, final decisions on alcohol permit process

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS -- A task force charged with revising Indiana alcohol laws considered large-scale permitting changes Friday at its latest meeting but made no final decisions on final proposals.

The Alcohol Code Revision Commission last year recommended ending the prohibition on carryout alcohol sales. This year it has focused more on permitting.

Indiana has a quota system that limits the number of alcohol retail permits depending on a community's population. But some areas have sought to go above quotas.

The issue is complicated by more than 700 permits behind held in escrow by persons or companies around the state.

Some of those entities are working to open a new business, but others sit on the permits to both squelch competition and ultimately drive up the price of the permit when it is eventually sold.

"The evil is the quota system," commission member Randall Woodruff said. "If we eliminate the quota system entirely that fixes the escrow problem."

He said there should be no limits on permits, but they should be sold at higher rates with the money going to enforcement. Woodruff suggested local alcohol boards be in charge since they know the needs of their community better.

Sen. Eric Bassler, R-Washington, supported the idea, saying government regulation is the problem. Instead the state should focus on enforcement against underage and excessive drinking, he said.

But two House members with considerable clout opposed the idea.

Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, said eliminating quotas would cause irrefutable problems.

He noted that increasing the outlet density of alcohol results in more drunk driving, public intoxication, sexual assault and other crimes.

"It's a very dangerous proposition," Smaltz said.

Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said alcohol is not a normal commodity.

"We're dealing with a drug. We need to be careful. It's not a can of beans," he said. "Abandoning any state control of that would be very problematic to me."

Woodruff acknowledged there is not enough support for the idea. The commission will vote on specific recommendations at its final meeting later this month.