Brewers push for alcohol sales at Indiana State Fair

INDIANAPOLIS - A nearly seven-decade-old ban on alcohol at the Indiana State Fair could come to an end if lawmakers can reconcile desires to promote local brews with concerns about maintaining the fair's "family friendly" atmosphere.

An Indiana House committee heard testimony Wednesday on a proposal to lift a ban on alcohol at the fair. The bill passed the Senate but still needs approval from the House and Gov. Mike Pence before it could take effect. A vote is expected next week.

State fair officials and beer brewers say the time has come to showcase Indiana-made craft beers and wines alongside other agricultural products. Liquor, not just wine and beer, also would be permitted if the bill becomes law.

"The No. 2 question that's asked at the fair," state fair director Cindy Hoye said, "is, `Where is the beer?"' She said the first question is about the location of restrooms.

Hoye said alcohol likely would be sold in an enclosed area open only to fairgoers age 21 and older in what she called a "Disney World" approach. The Florida theme park began selling beer and wine in the evening at a French restaurant in 2012.

Big Red Liquors spoke in sole opposition to the bill during the hearing, citing concerns that greater access to alcohol would lead to abuse.

Other critics have expressed concern about underage drinking. Hoye said Facebook commenters say they're worried that alcohol sales could tarnish the fair's "family friendly" reputation.

Committee members floated ideas to restrict alcohol sales after 9 p.m. to curb potential abuse, but Hoye resisted further regulation. She said policies to deal with alcohol sales already are in place at the fairgrounds and noted that alcohol is allowed at the site throughout the year except during the fair.

The last alcohol-related offense reported during the fair was in 2007.

Lawmakers also are considering measures that would allow excused school absences for youths attending the fair to show animals or take part in other learning activities.

A bill that would allow up to five days of excused absences for such events passed the Indiana House Education Committee 11-0 on Tuesday.

The proposal comes as schools across the state shorten summer vacations and push school start dates up, forcing students to either miss 4-H activities or skip classes.

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