State legislation ‘commands’ liquor permit for Indiana’s DNR

I don’t use the word evil very often. Bad, ill-advised, unfortunate, but rarely evil. Yet here’s a case worthy of that strong adjective.

A pavilion at the Indiana Dunes State Park, on the shore of Lake Michigan in Porter County, is in considerable disrepair. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) seeks to restore the facility. A private firm (Pavilion Partners, LLC) proposes placing a fine dining restaurant on the second floor of the pavilion plus adding a conference and banquet facility to make this state asset more usable throughout the year.

To do this they require a three-way (beer, wine and liquor) alcoholic beverage license from the state. No booze equals no concerts, wedding parties or corporate events.

Without the alcohol permit, the park would have only a modernized facility for sun and surf bathers, hikers and other visitors to a glorious locale.

The old time, pristine virtues of a state park would again (excuse the expression) trump aggressive commercialism.

This proposal has not passed any local or state agency empowered to approve it. However, Chuck Williams, the leading figure battling for this project, is the former chairman of the Porter County Republican Party. He knows people downstate in the madhouse of representative government prepared to railroad approval for the liquor license.

Now, two virtually identical bills are before the legislature, both authored by elected representatives who do not live within 100 miles of the Dunes. Sen. James Merritt (R-Marion and Hamilton counties) offers SB 188 while Rep. Sean Eberhart (R-Shelby, Bartholomew and Hancock counties) authored HR 1247.

Sen. Merritt’s bill “Requires the alcohol and tobacco commission to issue a three-way permit to the department of natural resources (DNR) for one or more state parks if a proper application is made. Exempts a permit issued for a state park from: (1) local board investigation and hearing on the application; (2) quota restrictions; and (3) requirements regarding the character of the permit applicant and the location of the permit. Exempts the DNR from provisions that prohibit a permit holder from discounting alcoholic beverage purchases: (1) for less than all purchasers; or (2) during a part of the day. Provides that the annual fee for a permit issued to a state park is $250.” (Emphasis added.)

Note the language: This bill requires and exempts; it commands. It overrides local investigation and quota restrictions, while dismissing the character of the applicant and negates questions of location. It opens every state park to undesirable and unwanted invasion by commercial interests.

Once again, calculated state paternalism preempts local intent, local control, and public sentiment. These bills are evidence of the irresponsibility and insularity of our General Assembly, and an insult to those few elected legislators who honor their commitment to public service.

It may be too late to stop this legislative juggernaut. If that is true, I apologize for not addressing this issue sooner. Still, if cronyism is not your idea of how government should work, if our natural resources are important to you, then let your legislator hear your voice today.

Morton Marcus is an economist, writer and speaker who may be reached at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.