By John Sittler
A state senator wants to allow beer and wine at the Indiana State Fair to promote Indiana-based products but the move would open the door to national brands as well.
Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis - who authored Senate Bill 339 - said his proposal boosts Indiana agriculture and tourism issue and that "we all want to brag about Indiana beers and Indiana wines."
The bill - which already passed the Senate - is expected to get a vote next week in the Public Policy Committee.
Matt Bell, a spokesman for Big Red Liquors, told the Public Policy Committee on Wednesday that lawmakers should work to address several concerns about whether sales will be limited to Indiana companies only.
But Marc Carmichael, president of the Indiana Beverage Alliance, cited a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said states are not allowed to discriminate against out-of-state alcohol suppliers.
"You need to be careful about putting into the statute that you want to have just Indiana only beer or Indiana only wine," Carmichael said.
Cindy Hoye, executive director of the Indiana State Fair Commission, said she can't guarantee that only Indiana alcohol would be sold.
"The focus would be on Indiana wine and Indiana beers. But I can't stand up here and say there might not be a day when there is Budweiser sold in the VIP reception area," Hoye said.
Lee Smith, executive director of the Brewers of Indiana Guild, said she was surprised to hear Hoye say alcohol sales could be expanded to include out-of-state brands.
"I don't think they have any connection to agriculture in the state," Smith said.
Merritt also said he thought alcohol sales would exclusively be from Hoosier breweries and wineries.
"I can't for the life of me think that they would divert and have Budweiser. I believe that they will have Indiana beers and Indiana wine," he said.
Hoye said that, overall, her philosophy is that the sale of alcohol would be "very controlled, very safe, very responsible."
"We will never sell it like corndogs," she said. Other fairs do, "but that's not Indiana," she said.
Bell said the committee also needs to consider if it wants to allow liquor to be sold at the fair.
There is currently no mention of the sale of spirits in the bill.
But Hoye said the alcohol would be sold and consumed in a designated area called the "Indiana Wine and Beer and Spirits Exposition."
Although the focus would be on agriculture, Hoye said increased revenue would also be a benefit because - as a quasi-government organization - the fair only receives 30 percent of its funds from the state.
"We want to showcase Indiana agriculture, but we don't want to say that that's solely it, it's just that's the model of how we would go through this process to begin with," she said.
Hoye said the top two questions heard at the fair are "where are the restrooms?" and "where can I get a beer?"
Indiana is currently one of only two states that does not serve alcohol at its state fair.
John Sittler is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.