Liquor task force: eliminate quota system


Official Otter cocktail napkin. Not Otter's official desk.

Last week, citydesk obtained a copy of Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter's plan to eliminate Idaho's quota system on liquor-by-the-drink licenses.

In a clever scheme, worked out over the past year by a task force that includes bar owners, license holders, distributors, restaurant and hotel owners, legislators and law enforcement, the 51-page bill does preserve some value for current state liquor license holders, while opening up the flood gates for cities and counties that want to issue more liquor licenses.

In the words of Otter attorney David Hensley, who drafted the legislation, the bill "empowers local governments to issue liquor-by-the-drink" licenses and "gets the state out the business of liquor-by-the-drink licensing."

The governor will ask the Legislature to grant cities and counties the power to issue municipal liquor licenses to eating establishments (which must have a commercial kitchen and space for food preparation and eating) and lodging facilities (no, hourly rates won't cut it ... or will they?)

Any new bar that just wants to be a bar (not a saloon, pub, cathouse, motel, etc.) would need to purchase one of the 1,289 existing state licenses from a license owner who wants to sell. State licenses will be transferable anywhere in the state and will confer other benefits (10 percent discounts on booze!) to help compensate owners for the inevitable loss of value in that piece of paper that allows them to serve hard liquor.

That means the state is essentially freezing the number of straight up bars and nightclubs in Idaho at about 1,300 for perpetuity, or until Boise needs 1,301 bars, whichever comes first.

Counties will be free to regulate eating and lodging establishments that want to serve liquor within their jurisdictions.

The proposal, which Otter will likely introduce to the Legislature this session, contains many other regulations to appease anti-liquor interests, keep bar owners happy, prevent liquor law violations and even raise new revenue streams for law enforcement and local government.

Read about it in tomorrow's BW. It may be called the 2009 ABC Reform Act. It may be called something else.