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Idaho Senate Panel Forwards Bill Unshackling Cinema Alcohol Sales From Obscenity Laws

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When an Idaho movie theater screened Fifty Shades of Grey, Idaho State Police threatened to pull the theater's liquor license. - UNIVERSAL PICTURES / FOCUS FEATURES
  • Universal Pictures / Focus Features
  • When an Idaho movie theater screened Fifty Shades of Grey, Idaho State Police threatened to pull the theater's liquor license.


A bill that would allow Idaho movie theaters to serve beer or wine during film screenings containing adult material cleared another hurdle Friday morning, when the Senate State Affairs Committee approved House Bill 544, sending it to the full Senate with a "do pass" recommendation. 

The measure, which unshackles beer and wine licenses at Idaho movie theaters from state obscenity laws, came in the wake of a lawsuit filed in January by Meridian Cinemas against Idaho State Police.

The theater, located in the Village at Meridian, alleged ISP conducted a form of censorship by threatening to pull its liquor license when certain R-rated films were screened. Specifically, ISP warned Meridian Cinemas it could lose its license over a 2015 screening of Fifty Shades of Grey, which contained more than a little adult material. 

"Meridian Cinemas are in my district," said Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Winder (R-Boise). "My wife and I attend movies there, though we don't sit in the alcohol-sales section. But honestly, you wouldn't even know the other section was there. This is well-managed and separated."

The issue of "separation" prompted Majority Leader Sen. Bart Davis (R-Idaho Falls) to hint that the Legislature might want to consider a separate measure that would specifically target other cinemas that offer alcohol sales. Without mentioning The Flicks in Boise or Ketchum's The Magic Lantern by name, Davis told his colleagues on the State Affairs Committee that, "We have another option."

"There are other theaters that don't divide up their patrons in that fashion," said Davis, obliquely referencing  The Flicks and Magic Lantern, which don't segregate their beer- or wine-consuming patrons from the rest of the audience.

"It's late in the session and I don't know if the committee would have value in take a different approach, but it needs to be said out-loud and now I have," he added.

The committee was having none of Davis' suggestion to amend the bill, and voted to approve the measure, sending it to the full Senate. The bill has already passed through the House, so if the Senate approves, HB 544 would be sent to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter for his consideration.