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Senator steers clear of beer wholesaler legal battle

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The Indiana Legislature won't interfere with beer wholesaler Monarch Beverage Co.'s quest in federal court for the right to distribute liquor.

Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, chairman of the Public Policy Committee, said Wednesday morning that he won't include language sought by Monarch's opponents in any alcoholic beverage bill that he advances in the second half of the session.

“I respect all of our wholesalers,” Alting said.

The Indiana Beverage Alliance, which represents Budweiser distributors, hoped to derail federal court cases by Monarch, the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and the Convenience Store Association with Senate Bill 415, which stated that if any portion of the Indiana code on alcohol is found to be invalid, the rest shall be interpreted to limit, rather than expand, commerce in that industry.

The lawsuits by Monarch and the convenience stores claim that Indiana's alcohol laws are unconstitutional.

Alting stripped the court-instruction language from the bill, which also deals with how beer makers can do business with Indiana wholesalers. Alting said he delayed a committee vote on SB 415 to give Anheuser-Busch InBev and the Budweiser distributors more time to work out their differences.

Among the Budweiser distributors' complaints is that Anheuser-Busch has flooded their docks with beer they didn't order, while forcing them to pay for it.

“In general, it's not our business,” Alting said. “However, what's a little bit different in this situation is Indiana created the beer wholesalers. They play a very, very important role in the three-tier system [of suppliers, wholesalers and retailers]."

Though SB 415 did not advance in the Senate, Alting said he may still insert language protecting the wholesalers in a House bill destined for his committee. The major beermakers are watching the Legislature's reaction to the industry quarrel, Alting said.

"We will protect our beer wholesalers in Indiana," he said.

Indianapolis-based Monarch and the Indiana Beverage Alliance split over Monarch's attempts to pass legislation that would give it the right to distribute liquor. The other beer wholesalers say they fear Monarch would end up creating a monopoly. Liquor distributors also oppose Monarch's effort. 

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