The Idaho State Police lost the first round in its fight to mandate that eateries which hold liquor licenses serve customers at least 20 hours a week.
The proposed regulation would also have required liquor license holders to serve at least 20 drinks per week.
House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee members turned back the regulation on a 10 to 7 vote Thursday. Though defeated in the House, the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee will soon consider the proposal. If the Senate panel doesn’t reject the regulation, it will take effect despite the House members’ objections.
ISP wrote the regulation to ensure holders use their liquor licenses, not simply sit on them. The licenses, allotted at one per every 1,500 residents in a town, are pricey and difficult for businesses to obtain, due to state regulations designed to promote temperance.
ISP Capt. Russell Wheatley told legislators “dormant” liquor licenses fail to provide tax revenue to the state and lead to frustration for eateries waiting for their chance to purchase licenses. Wheatley noted, the business atop the Pocatello-area liquor-license wait list has been waiting for more than 40 years.
“These licenses are in high demand,” the captain said. He added he’s heard of license holders sitting on their permits without selling drinks for two decades.
State law prevents license transfer within the first two years, and mandates that license holders serve drinks for certain hours each week during that same time period.
Beyond the two-year mark, Wheatley said the state needs an objective standard for for ensuring that liquor licenses are being used as intended.
Several legislators worried the rule would violate business owners’ property rights. Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, told Wheatley the state should respect license holders’ right to do with licenses as they please.
“I get there are people in line,” Trujillo said. “If [license holders] want to sit on [licenses], I’m not sure it’s our right to tell them that they cannot sit on them.”
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said the regulations make the best of a bad situation created by state laws limiting the number of licenses ISP can issue.
The committee’s three Democrats voted for the regulations, as did GOP Reps. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene, Richard Wills of Glenns Ferry, Patrick McDonald of Boise, and Tom Dayley of Nampa.
The Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee will likely hear the regulatory proposal next week.