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Lawsuit seeks fairness in state’s cold beer law

Fifty years ago, a panel of unelected bureaucrats unfairly granted liquor stores the sole right to sell cold beer. This week, the members of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association initiated a lawsuit asking for just one thing – to be treated fairly when it comes to the sale of beer.

Responsible retailers and consumers have lived long enough under an antiquated, unconstitutional law that governs the temperature at which beer can be sold among different classes of retailers. Indiana has the dubious distinction of being the only state that regulates beer sales based upon temperature.

We believe this lawsuit is necessary to ensure fair competition among all retailers and greater convenience for Hoosier shoppers, while maintaining a responsible regulatory environment. Otherwise, the existing law only serves to protect the special interests of one class of retailer over another, without any rational justification.

The law we challenge is not about controlling alcohol. We believe alcohol should be sold in a responsible and regulated manner. Yet these current restrictions make no sense. They allow us to sell chilled wine products, most of which contain higher alcohol content than beer.

What is it about cold beer that merits this special discriminatory treatment, other than its market popularity?

The law we challenge is not about keeping cold beer out of the hands of minors. In the last five years, liquor stores were 138 percent more likely to violate Indiana liquor laws than those stores prohibited from selling cold beer.

Similarly, restaurants and bars, which may also sell refrigerated beer, were nearly 1,400 percent more likely to violate Indiana liquor law during the same time frame.

The law we challenge is not about the problem of drinking and driving. According to the most recent national reports, with the exception of Alaska, states that have better drunken driving statistics than Indiana also have more liberal laws when it comes to selling alcohol at convenience stores.

On the contrary, the law we challenge is about protecting market share for liquor stores – plain and simple.

During the past five years, we tried to resolve the issue by working with members of the Indiana General Assembly. Our efforts included a campaign to modernize Indiana liquor laws, enlisting the support of more than 50,000 Hoosiers. These citizens sent more than 12,000 messages to their elected representatives, yet reforms went nowhere, thanks in large part to the powerful liquor store lobby.

We hear the frustration from our customers every day. They are tired of having limited choices on where they can buy beer cold. This is true in some of our larger cities, such as Bloomington and Columbus, where a single business owner dominates the entire cold beer market.

It is true in our rural communities where consumers must drive great distances to find a store selling cold beer.

Finally, consumers are tired of the surcharges that liquor stores routinely apply to cold sales for no reason other than they can.

The negative impact of this law on our businesses and the consumers they serve is obvious.

But it is more than that; this unreasonable law has also cost Indiana millions of investment dollars and thousands of jobs. Few convenience store owners are willing to build new stores in Indiana when those same investment dollars could be spent in neighboring states where their stores can fully serve the needs of their customers.

Our industry has waited long enough. Consumers have waited long enough. Indiana has waited long enough.

It is time to rid our state of this unconstitutional relic.

Scot Imus is executive director of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

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