Liquor license bill stalls in committee

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A sweeping liquor license reform bill proposed by Caldwell Sen. Jim Rice won’t be advancing out of the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee to the full senate — for now.

Following a hearing Monday in Boise, the committee members voted 6 to 2 to keep the proposed legislation in the committee.

Sens. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, cast the dissenting votes.

“We didn’t kill it,” Souza said. “It’s being held, and the sponsor is gathering a group of business owners, restaurant and bar owners and others, and they’re going to sit down and try to hash things out and reach a compromise.”

Souza said she feels the full Senate should hear the bill and vote on it.

“It’s a complicated bill, but it does good things in allowing local control for cities and counties,” Souza said.

Rice’s proposal would end the state’s 70-year-old system of issuing new, transferable liquor licenses and give cities the authority to determine their own needs regarding drinking establishments and issue liquor licenses themselves, if they choose to.

The system now used by the state to issue licenses allows for one liquor license per every 1,500 residents. Over the years, this quota system has resulted in years-long waiting lists for liquor licenses in cities, and because the state-issued licenses are transferable and can be sold or leased, the prices have skyrocketed.

Under Rice’s bill, existing state-issued liquor licenses would be grandfathered and would remain transferable, but could be sold statewide, rather than only within the city. The bill’s statement of purpose says it aims to “eliminate the trafficking of state licenses.”

The proposed legislation also calls for increased training for anyone who serves alcohol.

There were people who testified for and against the reform bill, Souza said.

“The Idaho Association of Cities, they were strongly in favor of this, because of local control and because it could be customized to economic development in cities in different parts of the state,” Souza said.

She said she respects the opinions of those who have concerns.

Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger and members of the Idaho Licensed Beverage Association opposed Rice’s proposal.

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