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Holcomb faces deadline on divisive energy, alcohol bills

April 30, 2017

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb secured some big victories before the Legislature adjourned, but he now faces a looming deadline to make tough decisions on legislation pushed by powerful business interests that clash with his own outlook.

Two bills approved by fellow Republicans would eliminate much of the current financial benefit available to those who install solar panels, and close a legal loophole used by Ricker's convenience stores to sell carryout cold beer.

Both measures are supported by GOP leaders who made sure much of Holcomb's agenda was passed before lawmakers left town for the year on April 22. That puts the rookie governor in an awkward spot as he faces deadlines next week to either issue a veto, sign the measures or let them become law without his signature.

Thus far, he has refused to detail any action he may take, saying he was "still reviewing" them and "looking at every angle."

"It's going to sound like a skipping record," Holcomb said. "This is just a methodical process with me, where I carve out time each and every day and go over each and every bill, and I'm not there yet."

Already solar power supporters and businesses have inundated his office and social media accounts with opposition to a measure by Sen. Brandt Hershman that would sharply curtail the current rate of return for solar panel owners who feed excess power to the grid. The Lafayette Republican's bill is supported by the state's investor-owned utilities that fear it could cut into their profits if the popularity of solar power continues to grow.

Critics question the need for the bill, noting state law already has a stringent limit on the number of people who can reap the benefit.
Holcomb, meanwhile, has spoken extensively about his vision of economic growth fueled by luring emerging technologies and high-tech jobs to the state.

"Businesses and jobs that a dozen years ago were going to Austin or Boston or the Silicon Valley are now coming to Indiana," Holcomb said during his State of the State address. "We saw that innovation and high-tech were keys to unlocking the 21st century economy."

In the case of the cold beer loophole, lawmakers passed a bill to pause actions taken when Holcomb was still lieutenant governor by an agency he now oversees.

Package liquor stores, restaurants and taverns have long enjoyed the exclusive right to sell carryout cold beer in Indiana, though convenience stores are allowed to sell warm beer and cold wine.

Some Statehouse Republicans were angered after it was revealed in March that the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission issued permits allowing Jay Ricker to sell carryout cold beer at two of his convenience stores after installing seating and serving made-to-order burritos.

Holcomb has said the ATC acted appropriately and within the law by issuing the permits. And critics have ridiculed the state's cold beer sales restrictions as absurd while seeking to whip up populist opposition.

But liquor store owners, who have donated generously to lawmakers in both parties, pushed back hard. Republican leaders say actions by the ATC go against the spirit of the law, though they vowed to take up an overhaul of the state's antiquated booze laws next year.

"Alcohol is a regulated market. It's not just a free market. You just can't buy it anywhere, and properly so," said Republican Senate David Long, of Fort Wayne. "We have to figure out whether the proliferation we've allowed, somewhat inadvertently through some of the ATC's decisions, are the right ones or not."

Holcomb spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson said Friday that the governor followed both bills closely during the legislative session and "continues to weigh them carefully." She added: "We'll all know his final decisions soon."

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