Alcohol Code Revision Meeting Turns To Training Of Local Enforcement Boards
INDIANAPOLIS — One of the first Alcohol Code Revision Commission meetings under new Chairman Bill Davis ended with worries that local boards of the state’s Alcohol and Tobacco Commission are not being trained properly.
After two hours of discussion on the meeting’s scheduled items Friday, a line-up that included finding an appropriate process for alcohol permits placed into escrow and analyzing the risks of over-consumption under current law, the conversation took a sudden turn.
Guy Townsend, a now retired state prosecuting attorney, probation officer and publisher, read a brief statement that accused the revision board members of ignoring critical oversights in local ATC boards.
He alleged multiple violations of a ruling in the ATC’s code that mandates the agency provide training to all of its local board members within 180 days of their appointment.
Townsend said he had consulted with sources across multiple counties and learned that some excise officers were unaware of the training requirement.
“It appears, therefore, at least for some local boards, that the boards that have the responsibility of making the most basic and most important decisions regarding alcohol sales in this state, specifically the decision about who gets and keeps a license to sell alcohol, that some of these boards are completely clueless about what they’re supposed to be doing,” Townsend said from his seat in the chamber of the Indiana House of Representatives.
“My question is, if the state alcohol and tobacco commission substantially blows off an explicit requirement of the existing laws, why are we wasting our time trying to revise those laws?”
Terry Bauer, a member of the revision commission who spent decades as a state excise officer, then asked ATC Chairman David Cook, who was present in the audience, to provide answers.
“It’s my understanding that, I think this was pointed out by one of the commission members, that the ATC has actively tried to correct this oversight and has taken measures to require training,” Bauer said.
Cook said he recently rewrote the agency’s training manual himself for use by local board members. The documents have since been posted online, he said, where board members must verify that they have read the requirement.
Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, asked Cook if a Gov. Mike Pence-era restriction that only allows state agencies to alter their rules in the event of an emergency impeded training regulations.
“As far as we know, Gov. Pence’s order on rule-making has not been relaxed,” Cook said. “We are hampered by not having rule-making authority.”
Cook added that only one rule has been added since he entered office in 2015.
But Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, suggested that the commission consider the ATC’s potential lack of funding and resources as a potential obstacle to them following through with rule changes.
Smaltz said about $5.5 million of the annual ATC budget is allocated to permitting fees, while $1.6 million is reserved for “administration and enforcement.” The lawmaker said raising taxes to provide additional financing to the agency is not necessary.
“I’m not advocating that at all,” Smaltz said. “What I’m saying is that the problem is we’re not letting enough funds that are coming into the agency stay there so they can hire the staff they need.”
The alcohol code revision commission will meet again Aug. 31. Members said they will continue to discuss how to best empower the ATC in the future.
FOOTNOTE: Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.