The state's alcohol code, a mishmash of nonsensical and outdated regulations, is known for two particularly controversial features: a prohibition on most, but not all, Sunday sales, and a requirement that cold beer can be sold only at package liquor stores.
Legislators have battled over those policies for years, diverting attention from other issues and achieving very little.
There were high hopes when a special legislative commission convened two months ago, tasked with looking at every aspect of the state's alcohol policy over a two-year period. Competing special interests that thwarted previous efforts to update the Depression-era code seemed to be inching toward consensus that changes had to be made.
But as The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly reported Sunday, it appears this year's recommendations will fall short of the overhaul some were expecting.
The commission seems prepared to endorse permitting alcohol sales on Sunday, at least during limited hours. The Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, long opposed to Sunday sales, last month announced it was reversing its position. At last week's meeting, commission member Terry J. Bauer offered a proposal to allow sales from noon to 7 p.m.
But Bauer, a former member of the Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission, is opposed to changing the rules on cold-beer sales. Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, who may sponsor a Sunday-sales bill in the House, is among other commission members who see no need to expand the types of stores that can sell cold beer.
The commission, chaired by Beverly Gard, a respected former senator, still plans at least two sessions before its recommendations on retail policy are due in December. Next year, the group will take on the equally knotty issues of wholesale distribution of beer, wine and liquor.
It remains to be seen whether the commission can outline a comprehensive cleanup of the other confusing and archaic rules that clutter the retail side of the state alcohol code. But if its recommendations are to be truly comprehensive, the group must present a well thought-out recommendation on the cold-beer question.
There may be alternatives to that policy short of enabling sales at all pharmacies, groceries and convenience stores that now are allowed to sell warm beer. But somehow, Indiana, which is said to be the only state that regulates beer sales by temperature, has to resolve the issue. The commission, not the legislature, has the better chance of doing that.