INDIANAPOLIS — A legislative study committee learned Monday that many Hoosier convenience store owners would be willing to submit to stricter regulations in exchange for the ability to sell from a refrigerator the warm beer that's currently on their shelves.
Indiana is the only state that regulates retail beer sales by temperature, with package liquor stores holding the exclusive right to sell cold beer for take-home consumption.
The commission did not take any action or even try coming to a consensus on the issues of cold beer, much less Sunday alcohol sales.
Following four more scheduled fact-finding sessions, the bipartisan panel is expected to recommend in November possible changes to Indiana's retail alcohol laws that the Republican-controlled General Assembly could act on during its 2018 session, which starts in early January.
Former state Sen. Bev Gard, R-Greenfield, the study committee chairwoman, admitted afterward that she has an open mind on possible changes to Indiana's alcohol laws, but the commission is facing hard questions on complicated issues that it doesn't yet have answers for.
Concerning cold beer sales, Matt Norris, of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, told the state's Alcohol Code Revision Commission that the hundreds of gas stations and shops belonging to his trade group are prepared to conform to liquor store-like restrictions if they were allowed to sell cold beer.
Specifically, Norris said the IPCA is willing to support requirements that convenience store clerks selling alcohol be at least 21 years old, trained and licensed by the state, and mandated to check identification to verify the age of every customer purchasing alcohol.
In addition, he said the IPCA would not oppose eliminating the commodity list that currently restricts liquor stores to offering only a few products beyond beer, wine and spirits, such as cups, ice and salty snacks.
"We want to take a product that we currently sell warm, and sell that same product cold," Norris said. "We do not believe there is a public policy rationale to justify this distinction."
A lineup of liquor store owners contested that claim by pointing out their businesses, which were established and organized under the existing statues, would be indelibly harmed by increased competition.
Several suggested cold beer availability at gas stations would lead to increased drunken driving, even though they admitted most Hoosiers drive to liquor stores when they purchase cold beer.
They also cautioned that cold beer sales could lead to demand for Sunday retail alcohol sales, which they claimed would further harm liquor stores by driving up operating costs relative to grocery, drug and convenience stores that already are open Sundays.