INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers are nearing consensus on language that would halt other convenience stores from selling carryout alcohol – including cold beer.
But it comes at the expense of Anderson-based Ricker's, which obtained two restaurant permits from the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission late last year that also allow the sale of carryout cold beer and liquor.
The stores added tables, chairs and Mexican food such as burritos to gain the permit. Otherwise the right to sell cold beer belongs to package stores – which pay a lot more for permits than restaurants.
It is the surprise topic of the legislative session – popping up in the final weeks and distracting leaders from other bills.
“We are essentially doing the job right now of the Alcohol Tobacco Commission, which none of us want to be doing,” House Speaker Brian Bosma said. “And we are doing it in a short time frame … we shall see how that all shakes out.”
The language in a proposed conference committee report – which could be voted on today – would grandfather restaurant permits issued before November 2016, before Ricker's received its two permits for stores in Sheridan and Columbus.
The measure would require entities seeking new restaurant permits to have 60 percent of their alcohol sales in on-premises consumption to be able to sell carryout cold beer and liquor.
Then there is a special provision for Ricker's that allows it to keep its permits through renewal, which is at the end of the year. At that point, the commission can give Ricker's an extension, but it's not guaranteed.
And language was added emphasizing the General Assembly's intent that “a grocery store, convenience store or drug store should not be given the privilege of selling cold beer for carryout.”
The same intent is mirrored for restaurants inside grocery, drug or convenience stores.
Even if the renewal is granted, it couldn't go beyond April 1, 2018.
Jay Ricker, chairman of Ricker Oil, said lawmakers targeted licenses he obtained legally through both the state and local alcohol boards. They have specifically written a bill to ultimately take away his carryout privileges.
“I'm still going to lose two licenses,” he said. “If you look at the constitution here and in the federal government, if you've obtained one legally, you get to keep it – even if they change the rules. So I feel like we're being singled out.”
Ricker also noted that leadership is “really twisting arms hard to try to get this through.”
He is still working inside the Statehouse to defeat the bill but acknowledged that a lawsuit is a possibility.
Matt Bell, lobbyist for Big Red Liquor, said it's a fair compromise allowing Ricker's to keep the permits on an interim basis while providing time for a robust discussion of alcohol issues.