As former leader of the Alcohol Code Revision Commission, Beverly Gard was open to discussing cold beer sales, a controversial topic that was debated and rejected by the Indiana General Assembly earlier this year.
But Gard expects the direction of the committee to change under the leadership of its new chair, former Rep. Bill Davis.
Davis, a former Republican representative from the Indiana city of Portland, was named leader of the commission by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, on Wednesday. Davis will lead the commission this summer for the second half of its two-year study.
Davis is known traditionally to oppose the expansion of alcohol laws, previously turning down hearings and voting against Sunday alcohol sales in 2012 and 2013 as the chair of the House Public Policy Committee.
“Rep. Davis was fine legislator, well respected, but he had a lot of control over alcohol issues for the three years he was chairman of the Public Policy Committee in the House,” Gard said.
Gard said a year ago Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, wanted someone with an open mind to lead the commission charged with making recommendations about reforming the state’s alcohol laws. Gard was appointed to chair the group even though she had no previous experience with alcohol laws and had not been on a committee dealing with the topic in the past.
“With this appointment, I don’t think that’s what you have,” Gard said. “This seems to be a total 180-degree turn on what they wanted in leadership.”
Bosma said in a written statement that Davis’s background in private and public sectors will help him lead the commission.
“During Bill’s service to the General Assembly, especially as chair of the Public Policy Committee, he always demonstrated strong leadership skills, integrity and the right temperament when handed tough issues,” Bosma said.
Bosma, in the news release, offered no reason why he was replacing Gard. The veteran lawmaker was also unavailable for an interview Wednesday.
Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, a member of the commission, said she was surprised to see this change in leadership.
“I thought that Sen. Gard did an outstanding job and was fair. She was even-handed and she helped us move through the agenda,” Austin said. “I have worked with soon-to-be chairman Davis. He was Public Policy Chair, and I believe he will be equally as fair.”
The committee last year recommended that alcohol be sold on Sundays. That proposal passed the General Assembly and became law this year. The committee members also debated but did not resolve the issue of whether convenience stores should be allowed to sell cold beer.
Gard said she would be surprised if the topic of cold beer sales came up in during the commission this summer.
“The legislative council set out the parameters they wanted the commission to look at, and that certainly wasn’t one of them,” Gard said.
Austin views cold beer sales as “unfinished business from last year,” even though it is currently not on the agenda.
“Because we were in a short legislative session, I can see why some folks maybe were reluctant to put too many alcohol issues out there at once,” Austin said.
The cold beer debate began last year when two locations in the Ricker’s convenience store chain began selling cold beer through a loophole under a restaurant permit. That loophole was closed this year. Only package liquor stores in Indiana can sell cold six-packs.
Owner Jay Ricker said he hopes Davis will listen to the public’s wishes.
“It’s the biggest topic in my mind and in the average Indiana voter’s mind as to what needs to be changed,” Ricker said. “But, obviously, the other side is fighting tooth and toenail, the liquor lobby, against this change.”