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Regional News

UPDATE: Idaho lawmakers postpone revising system for distributing liquor licenses

interior of Idaho state liquor store
Courtesy of Idaho State Liquor Division
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Critics say the state has a monopoly; local governments should be empowered

UPDATE: Wed. 3/16 9 am: The Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee has tabled this bill for the year. The chairwoman, Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, says she plans to bring the bill back next session, "in a non-election year," giving her a chance to continue to work on the bill with stakeholders.

Critics of Idaho’s system for awarding liquor licenses are proposing to overhaul it in a bill that may receive a thumbs up or a thumbs down from a legislative committee on Monday.

“What this bill tries to do is get at the monopoly or the anti-competitive nature of having restricted licenses," said Luke Malek, a former state representative from Coeur d’Alene who is now an attorney in Boise.

Liquor licenses are a prized asset in Idaho. The state of Idaho is the sole distributor. Malek says there aren’t many of them and when they do come available, they can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. He proposes that local governments be allowed the opportunity to issue liquor licenses as well, but just for restaurants.

“Those municipal licenses are accessible through counties and cities and open to everyone who meets certain qualifications. Those qualifications are, basically, you have a restaurant," he said.

At the same time, Malek says the bill attempts to protect the value of existing licenses and creates a fund that would compensate current holders if their licenses lose value.

“Once this bill passes, there will be no more state licenses issued. But they can be used in whatever application is already legal for them, so it can be used in a restaurant or it can be used in a bar. It’s the municipal license that will be restricted in terms of its application, so it couldn’t be used in a bar, a municipal license," he said.

Supporters say it’s an economic development bill designed to make it easier to own and operate restaurants that serve liquor. They say the bill should make it less expensive for restaurants to get permission to serve alcohol.

Current license holders, agree the current system isn’t perfect. Dave Krick, an alehouse owner in Boise and board president of Fair Idaho, a group of independent food and beverage businesses, says the new proposal tries to ram through a new system that will hurt businesses like his.

“If it’s time to make a major change, it should be done with a far more inclusive effort that invites all stakeholders and provides the time to do it right," he told legislators at a Senate committee hearing last week.

Krick says he’s only had a few days to review the bill. He and others believe it should be vetted by a broad range of interests with a goal of bringing it back to the legislature next year. The current session is scheduled to adjourn on March 25.

The Senate State Affairs Committee is scheduled to vote Monday morning whether to advance the bill to the Senate floor.