Alcohol regulations poised for overhaul

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, is expected to be the key figure this year as long-awaited reforms to Alaska’s alcohol laws reach the Legislature.

Since 2012, members of the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and stakeholders from across Alaska have been redrafting Title 4, the chapter of state statute that regulates “the manufacture, barter, possession, and sale of alcoholic beverages in the state.”

“We’ve been working on … I don’t want to say revising so much as bringing Title 4 into the new millennium,” said Bob Klein, chairman of the ABC board.

Much of Title 4 hasn’t been updated since 1980, and during that time, the alcohol industry has changed dramatically. When Alaskan Brewing opened for business on Dec. 26, 1986, it was the first successful craft brewery in modern Alaska history. Now, there are more than 35 across the state.

They’ve been joined by craft distilleries and a surge in the number of restaurants and seasonal businesses seeking alcohol licenses. The number of liquor-license applicants rose 20 percent in the past year alone, said Cynthia Franklin, director of the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control office.

Franklin said she believes at least part of that surge is coming from businesses seeking to get “public convenience” licenses before they’re eliminated.

Micciche introduced Senate Bill 99 in 2014 to implement the Title 4 revisions, but that bill didn’t move from the Labor and Commerce committee to which it was referred. A companion version, House Bill 185, was submitted by Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, but that also didn’t move from its committee of first referral.

In 2015, Micciche stripped some elements from SB 99 and put them into the new Senate Bill 165. That bill passed both houses of the Legislature and was signed into law by the governor. SB 165 reduced underage drinking penalties so they no longer result in the loss of a driver’s license, and fines can be reduced through Youth Court or taking alcohol education classes.

SB 165, while incorporating some of the recommendations of the committee convened to review Title 4, left most of the particularly contentious items alone.

Among the committee’s recommendations:

— Increase alcohol license fees (they haven’t risen since 1980);

— Consolidate licenses (get rid of brewpub and bottling works licenses) and to compensate, create add-on sampling ability to brewery and distillery licenses;

— Let breweries and distilleries hold a restaurant license as well;

— Allow growler-filling stations at liquor stores to give out samples;

— Increase penalties for liquor license-holders who violate the law;

— Change the makeup of the ABC board;

— Increase efforts to stop bootlegging.

“Sen. Micciche’s pretty determined to get as much of that through as possible,” said Cynthia Franklin, director of the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office.

Franklin and Klein each said the work of the Title 4 review committee is done, and the issue is now in the hands of the Legislature.

“All the hurdles have been cleared now, and it’s mostly a case of just doing the legal mumbo-jumbo,” Klein said.

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