State alcohol law rewrite continues

Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) is taking another stab at a sweeping rewrite of Alaska’s alcohol laws.

Senate Bill 99, which was introduced last April by Micciche but was not addressed during the 29th Legislature, sought to update, simplify and change aspects of Title 4 of Alaska Statute, the laws that regulate alcoholic beverages in the state. Parts of the rewrite, like lowering the penalties for minor consuming alcohol and reorganization of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, were included in SB 165, which was signed into law in July.

Now, Micciche is making the rounds to discuss ongoing work on Title 4, with a Nov. 15 deadline for the final legislation to be ready. He presented an update to the Soldotna City Council at its Wednesday meeting, citing simplification and greater emphasis on public health and safety as main components of the rewrite.

“We know that we are … the number one state in the country for negative demographics associated with alcohol abuse,” Micciche told the council. “Some of that has to do with 40-year-old alcohol statutes that are largely a hodge-podge of different issues that have occurred over the last many years.”

Some portions of the statute have not been updated since the 1980s, he said.

SB 165 did allow for a more equitable composition of the ABC Board, Micciche said, which was previously made up of two industry seats and three seats filled by members of the public. The new makeup of the board since the passing of SB 165 will be two industry seats, one public member seat, one public safety seat and one seat filled by a member of the rural public.

“We believe it’ll at least create a balance, if not lean toward more of a public safety, public health composition,” Micciche said.

Rather than being charged with a class A misdemeanor, minors who are caught consuming alcohol will be fined $500, which Micciche said can be reduced to $50 if six months of education is implemented. Further, the incident will not show up on a minor’s online Courtview record, he said.

Reviewing Title 4 has involved more than 60 stakeholders, who are still working on areas that were not addressed in SB 165, Micciche said, like licensing and permitting.

“We want to simplify the licensing system,” he told the council. “We’re going to bring them all into one place in the statute. We want to eliminate the potential for abuse and favoritism, (and) we want to update licensing fees and reporting requirements.”

Part of updating licensing for alcohol would involve eliminating the brewpub license type, Micciche told the council. It would also phase out the existing licenses that were attained through the public convenience portion of the statute, which requires collecting signatures within a one-mile radius of the business. Those businesses licensed under public convenience would have an option to convert to a seasonal license or a restaurant or eating place license.

Stephanie Queen, Soldotna’s director of economic development and planning, has been attending stakeholder meetings and has presented comments about how the statute rewrite could affect local businesses that are currently licensed under public convenience. In a letter to Micciche and the ABC stakeholder group dated Sept. 12, Queen outlined some problems doing away with licenses issued under public convenience while limiting alcohol licenses by population could cause for cities like Soldotna, a town of roughly 4,300 residents living within just over 7.3 square miles.

“Public convenience licenses have allowed businesses like St. Elias in Soldotna, Two Sisters Bakery and Fat Olive’s in Homer, and the Tide Pool Café in Seldovia to serve beer and wine in their restaurants,” Queen wrote. “These businesses are important to our communities, and would not have been allowed if the strict population limitations were employed.”

Queen pointed out in a chart included in her letter that though Soldotna’s municipal population is only about 4,300, the city reported more than $25 million in gross restaurant and bar sales in 2013, the most of any other municipality in the borough. She suggested in her letter that, rather than evaluate license limits based solely on municipal populations, Title 4 include a way for local governments to petition the ABC Board for additional licenses if appropriate.

“Because state statutes are only concerned with population of a municipality … there is a mis-match of where licenses are available, versus where the demand is greatest,” she wrote.

Micciche told the council that recommendations made by the stakeholder committees are still included in the comprehensive package and are being worked on during the 2016 interim. These include the concerns and suggestions from the city of Soldotna regarding licensing, which he said could affect other municipalities in the state as well.

“Most important to the city of Soldotna for the economy in this area is allowing the board to develop population limits for REPL’s (restaurant or eating place license) that take into consideration service area, not just permanent residence,” Micciche said of the recommendations. “Soldotna is clearly a victim of that with 4,300 residents and a service area of 25,000 that probably doubles in the summer.”

Other goals of rewriting Title 4 would be to increase staff to enforce alcoholic beverage laws in rural Alaska communities and increasing penalties for licensed businesses found to serve alcohol to minors, Micciche said.

 

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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