Commission Drafts New ABC Bill
Special Report - April 26, 2010
On April 22, a study committee looking at how to address concerns about efficiency and ethics in the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) system moved closer to a final version of draft legislation on which the committee intends to seek legislative action when the General Assembly reconvenes in May. The proposal does not include any measure of privatization of the system, which is a relief for local governments, community organizations, and legislators who have repeatedly and overwhelming opposed efforts to introduce agency or private stores that would allow non-government entities to sell hard liquor in the state. While the proposal introduces a mission statement for local ABC boards “to responsibly serve their localities by controlling the sale of spirituous liquor in customer-friendly, modern, and efficient stores in order to optimize revenue distributions,” some members of the committee expressed concern over the continuing emphasis on profitability rather than control, which has, historically, been the motivating factor for the state’s ABC system.
The draft proposal would expand and strengthen the authority of the State ABC Commission to establish and enforce training, performance, and ethics standards for local ABC boards, stores, members, and employees. Members of the committee expressed discomfort with the large increase in Commission authority over local boards and employees. In the final proposal, the committee intends to clarify the Commission as the final authority and enforcer of last resort should local boards fail to properly implement and enforce training, performance, and ethics expectations. The performance standards for local boards would include “standards that address enforcement of ABC laws, store appearance, operating efficiency, profitability, and customer service.” Local board members would be disallowed from receiving compensation above $150.00 per board meeting. The salary of the general manager of a local board would be tied to the salary of the corresponding county’s clerk of superior court, and travel allowances and per diem rates would be the same as those for other state employees.
The draft proposal also reflects the suggestion by the Program Evaluation Division and representatives from several public health, law enforcement, local government, and policy organizations around the state to raise the number of voters required to be registered in order for a city to conduct a referendum to allow the establishment of an ABC store or the sale of mixed beverages. Currently, a city must have 500 registered voters to hold a referendum on the establishment of an ABC board to open ABC stores in the city. Additionally, any city that wishes to vote on the sale of mixed beverages must also vote on the establishment of ABC stores. The proposal would raise the threshold for ABC store elections to 5,000 registered voters, and disallow the requirement to hold an ABC store election in order to hold a mixed beverage election. Any city with at least 500 registered voters would be able to hold a mixed beverage election, and if the city did not have its own ABC board and store, those businesses wishing to sell mixed beverages would contract with the closest ABC board and store to do so.
The committee needs to have any draft legislation ready to present to the General Assembly by May 12 when the “Short Session” will begin. At its May 5 meeting, the committee intends to vote on a proposal that incorporates suggestions and discussion from the April 22 meeting. You can read more about this issue in our previous story.
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