Voices of the Peninsula: Invitation to engage in the Title 4 Alcoholic Beverage Re-write

  • By Sen. Peter Micciche
  • Thursday, March 9, 2017 4:38pm
  • Opinion

Our primary focus these days in Juneau includes two categories of solutions to the fiscal challenges we face due to low oil prices. The first more acute category is the one Alaskans hear most about, such as those associated with the balance between services, reductions and revenue. The second category involves systemic changes that will save many hundreds of millions of dollars annually over the long term.

Alcohol and substance abuse destroy individual lives, families and adversely affect communities. It is also a key cost driver in several State departments responsible for responding to the resulting carnage. Although we have noticed the increase of opioid abuse in our state, alcohol remains the single greatest destructive and most abused substance in Alaska.

Alcohol is a part of life in Alaska, in good ways and bad. For many people, it is an enjoyable part of dinner with friends, a fun night out, or a special occasion. For others, it is a daily struggle that presents great personal harm and adverse effects to loved ones. Alaska is one of the states with the highest consumption of alcohol per capita and we bear one of the heaviest burdens in related consequences such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, injury, alcohol-related disease and death.

However, there is a balance between the many benefits alcohol provides as an important sector to the economy and the serious threats it causes to public health and safety. For these reasons, we can all agree that alcohol should be reasonably regulated.

Title 4 statutes regulate the manufacture, barter, sale and possession of alcoholic beverages in Alaska. The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board, staff, state and local officials enforce these laws. Much has changed since most of these laws were created in the 1980s. They are now outdated, confusing and otherwise ineffective in carrying out the intent.

Since 2012, stakeholders representing the alcohol industry, public health, local government, law enforcement, public safety, education and community advocacy have dedicated over 11,000 hours to craft substantial Title 4 re-write recommendations. Throughout the process, the group has worked to engage all perspectives to find new and better solutions for effective alcohol regulation and make Title 4 work better for everyone.

— The goals guiding this comprehensive effort included:— A clear and consistent legal framework for the ABC Board, licensees and law enforcement.

— A fair business climate that also protects public health and safety.

— Ensuring that changes do not negatively impact existing businesses’ important role in our economy.

— Promoting responsible alcohol use, reducing overconsumption and limiting youth access to alcohol.

— Increasing fairness, swiftness and consistency of Title 4 enforcement.

In 2015, I introduced SB99, the first version of Title 4 comprehensive legislation. The scope and complexity of the bill demanded more time than a single session. Therefore, I introduced SB165, a smaller bill with changes too important to wait: reducing onerous penalties on youth for possession of alcohol, ensuring they are not stigmatized for a single mistake and increasing their access to alcohol education and treatment, and providing public safety representation on the ABC Board. SB165 passed handily, setting the stage for youth to better understand the seriousness of underage drinking, without having to be punished well into adulthood.

When I introduced SB165, I promised the stakeholder group and the Legislature that more was coming in a second bill that would provide the more comprehensive solutions that were in SB99. I kept that promise, and worked closely with the Title 4 stakeholder group over the interim to correct problems and address all of the concerns brought from businesses, local governments, residents and other stakeholders.

— Senate Bill 76, released last week, addresses many problems that Title 4 causes for both licensees and state regulators including:· Leveling the playing field for licensees through changes to licenses, permits, and responding to innovative developments in the industry,

— Reducing many of the steep penalties to better match the severity of the offense and promote more consistent enforcement,

— Adjusting language that has proven to be unworkable, unenforceable or simply too confusing for the people who deal with Title 4 every day,

— Ensuring the ABC Board and the staff of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office have the resources to carry out their duties of managing licenses and permits, enforcing the laws, and educating all Alaskans about our alcohol laws.

Now that the work of the Title 4 stakeholder group is officially in the hands of legislators through the submittal of SB76, the legislation will go through the public process to ensure the best possible product. Please feel free to contact me at Senator.peter.micciche@akleg.gov. We respectfully request your engagement as a concerned community to ensure the most effective alcoholic beverage Title 4 statutes with a focus on public health and safety in support of an important Alaskan industry.

Senator Peter Micciche, Majority Leader of the Alaska Senate, represents District O (Kenai, Soldotna, Seward, Nikiski, Funny River, Sterling Cooper Landing &Moose Pass).

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