The owner of a local convenience store who was at the center of a legislative debate about Indiana’s alcohol laws is getting a public display of support this weekend in Columbus.

Libertarian Party members from Bartholomew and Jackson counties have organized the public Drink In for Liberty for 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the north-side Ricker’s, 1711 25th St. The event is intended as a protest of House Bill 1496 and other state alcohol laws such as prohibition of Sunday alcohol sales.

HB 1496, which was passed this spring by both the Indiana House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb, closed a legal loophole that permitted two Ricker’s stores — one in Columbus and another in Sheridan — to sell cold beer for carryout. The convenience stores have restaurant areas with tables and chairs, which allowed them to obtain alcohol permits normally granted to traditional restaurants.

State law has allowed only liquor stores to sell cold beer for carryout, while other retailers can only sell it at room temperature.

Current state alcohol laws pick winners and losers in the marketplace instead of letting consumers be the driving force, said Clyde Myers, acting vice chair of the Bartholomew County Libertarian Party.

Another issue that Libertarians take exception to is that state alcohol laws are written to protect the morality of residents, Myers said.

“We’re being supportive of freedom and choice, and the ability of adults to make choices as long as they’re not hurting anybody else,” said Erin Pyle Meadors, acting chair of the Jackson County Libertarian Party.

Ricker’s owner will attend

Jay Ricker, co-founder of the Ricker’s chain of convenience stores, said he will be in attendance for about 30 minutes at the beginning of the event, and likely will share a few thoughts and answer people’s questions.Ricker said he’s appreciative of the public show of support because he wants to keep the alcohol-law issue in the public eye and the pressure on state legislators to change existing laws.

House Bill 1496 becomes law July 1, and Ricker’s will be able to sell cold beer for carryout at the Columbus and Sheridan stores until its licenses run out in April 2018 — unless it meets the requirement that at least 60 percent of its gross retail income from alcoholic beverage sales is derived from sales of alcoholic beverages consumed on the premises.

As a result of HB 1496, state lawmakers approved a two-year summer study session to review the state’s alcohol laws and propose changes.

Ricker, who has a summer house in the Grandview Lake area, maintains that the state’s alcohol laws are archaic.

“We should look for rules based on how consumers shop,” Ricker said, suggesting that convenience should be considered when potential changes are reviewed.

He noted that a poll released Monday by the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association showed Hoosiers favor looser alcohol laws. For example, the poll showed 71 percent favored allowing all retailers to sell cold beer.

Sunday’s event also will include Libertarian Party members distributing literature about the state’s alcohol laws and answering questions, and having food and a drink inside Ricker’s, Myers and Meadors said.

What state legislators say

State Reps. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, and Jim Lucas, R-Seymour and state Sen. Greg Walker were among legislators invited to attend the event, Myers said.Lucas said he plans to attend and answer anyone’s questions. The Seymour lawmaker voted in favor of HB 1496, but said he did so to prevent the loophole from getting out of control.

However, Lucas said he’s supportive of Ricker’s efforts to bring scrutiny to the state’s alcohol laws, which he said need to be changed to better reflect the wishes of consumers.

“I applaud Mr. Ricker for highlighting the absurdity,” Lucas said.

Smith, who voted in favor of HB 1496, said his schedule will not allow him to attend.

Walker also said he will not attend, but sent the local Libertarians a note explaining his position on HB 1496, which he supported.

It’s a placeholder, Walker said, until lawmakers can come up with better long-term solutions for what he also described as an archaic system of alcohol laws.

IF YOU GO

What: Drink In for Liberty, an event organized by the Libertarian parties in Bartholomew and Jackson counties to protest House Bill 1496 and other state alcohol laws considered overreaching

When: 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Ricker’s convenience store, 1711 25th St., Columbus

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.