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Not so Easy

Guv steps in on liquor license enforcement

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Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has stepped into the fray between bar owners and the Idaho State Police.

In a letter sent to a businessman who'd written Otter complaining about heavy-handed enforcement by the Alcohol Beverage Control, Otter said he was setting up an advisory committee to look into enforcement practices by the state liquor licensing authority.

"We will have a team that will work with ABC to refocus this whole process," said Bob Wells, one of Otter's advisers who will work with the new advisory group.

The brouhaha over the Idaho State Police has been brewing for months, but came to a head when the agency gave notice to eight area clubs that it intended to revoke their liquor licenses, effectively shutting down those businesses (BW, News, "Down By Law," 03/14/2007).

Included in the list of strip clubs was the Big Easy, a popular concert venue in the BoDo area of downtown. Undercover state police officers attended a "Men of Las Vegas" show in January 5 and stated that they'd seen "prohibited acts" that included nudity, and also alleged that a minor, working for the Idaho State Police, had been served alchohol.

Meanwhile, Big Easy is fighting back. The venue's owners filed for an injunction against the license revocation in district court earlier this month. Big Easy attorney Ed Guerricabeitia said the filing asks a judge to rule on the revocation's legality.

The director of the ABC, Roger Clements, went before the State Legislature trying to change the state's rules that allow minors into smaller concert venues like the Big Easy. Clements's proposals, which would have directly affected the Big Easy's business, were turned down by skeptical House and Senate committees. The notice of license revocation came four weeks later.

Otter's new committee to review State Police operations includes Col. Jerry Russell, the director of the Idaho State Police, who declined to comment on the matter. The group includes Liquor Dispensary Director Dyke Nally, Rep. Mark Snodgrass, a Meridian Republican, Sen. Curt McKenzie, a Nampa Republican, and representatives of the Idaho Beer and Wine Distributors Association, the Idaho Lodging and Restaurant Association, The Idaho Licensed Beverage Association, the Idaho Association of Counties, and the Association of Idaho Cities.

The new advisory committee was formed after Gary Bates, who owns three liquor licenses, described his frustrations about dealing with ABC to Otter's office.

Wells said the group will start meeting shortly after the Legislature ends its term.

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