UnHappy Hour

Task force takes aim at "bikinigate"


Bob Wells saw the bumperstickers too. They were inaccurate, but comical. After the Idaho State Police busted a series of bikini bars and the Big Easy concert house last month, someone rushed out a series of stickers that criticized the Boise Police Department for ignoring more serious crime in favor of busting legitimate bars. The stickers prompted a name for the uproar that has ensued: "Bikinigate."

"We laughed at it, but it's serious," said Wells, an adviser to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.

And although he won't say so, the sudden bust of the bars for what the Idaho State Police's Alcohol Beverage Control division terms "prohibited acts" is on Wells' mind, as he convenes a task force on the state's liquor law enforcement.

"'Bikinigate' was not the catalyst for what we're doing," Wells said. But when word got out that Otter wanted to review the state's laws, Wells got popular.

"I've had what I'd call a fairly decent parade coming through my office," Wells said.

That includes Bill Roden, a lobbyist for the Idaho Beer and Wine Distributors Association. He's watched Lt. Robert Clements, the director of Alcohol Beverage Control, operate the agency and said it's time for change.

"There's been too much tendency on Bob's part to want to concentrate on those areas that generate a lot of publicity," Roden said.

His group backed a bill in the last Idaho Legislature that would have made significant changes to state law regarding Clements' agency. For starters, it would have made the director's position a governor-appointed one. Roden said it wasn't aimed at Clements directly. The bill would also have given Alcohol Beverage Control more autonomy within the Idaho State Police. House Bill 256, sponsored by Rep. Mark Snodgrass, a Meridian Republican, passed the House by an overwhelming majority. But before it could head to the Senate, Roden said, the sponsors agreed to a request to pull it aside, in anticipation of Otter's task force, headed up by Wells. Snodgrass is on that task force.

"I'd call it an issue," he said. "It's something we've been ignoring for some time."

Clements agrees. He's enforcing laws, he said, that were drafted in the early parts of the 20th century, and insists he's not going overboard in doing so.

"I certainly stand behind everything we do," Clements said. "We regulate the laws, and we take action as necessary." But, he added, many of those laws, including those governing liquor licenses, need to be revised to reflect a growing state. In particular, he's concerned about restaurants that sell liquor in areas where minors are allowed.

"They're nice places. But there's no clear distinction," he said. "I don't have the answer. I just regulate them. You can imagine the frustration for us."