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Alaska: Makeup of state ABC board delays passage of updated alcohol bill

Alaska: Makeup of state ABC board delays passage of updated alcohol bill


Source: News Miner

April 14, 2016


A bill updating the state’s alcohol laws has a path to the House floor, but there’s disappointment about a provision that specifically bars active health industry members from serving on the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.


Senate Bill 165 is a pared back version of a years-in-the-making overhaul of the state’s alcohol laws that proposes to soften the state’s penalties for underage drinking and rework the ABC board’s membership requirements.


Originally the bill by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, proposed to add a public safety member, a rural member and a public health member to the board in addition to the two alcohol industry representatives.


Due to opposition from the alcohol industry’s interest group, the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association, the public health member was removed on the Senate floor. CHARR members called public health members “anti-alcohol” and feared they’d lose control of the board. The position was replaced by a general member of the public with a specific prohibition against them being actively engaged in the public health sector.


It was a change that Rep. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, found disappointing when the bill was presented in the House Labor and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.


“I believe that is important insight to have on the board considering some of the severe problems we have in the state,” she said. “And I’m surprised to see the prohibition.”


Micciche, who got involved with the bill specifically for the changes to underage drinking penalties, said it was necessary to keep everyone at the table and moving ahead on the other changes that were tabled to pass next year.


“It’s an effort to balance the board and we felt it was a fair compromise,” he said.


He noted, however, that the language only prevents people who are currently involved in the public health sector from being on the Alcoholic Beverage Control board, but that people with past experience wouldn’t be prevented from being on it.


“By affiliation it means that obviously it’s not going to be somebody who’s in that line of work,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that somebody couldn’t be involved in the past.


Hughes said she understood the compromise but said she remained disappointed, noting that many other states don’t allow any industry members on their alcohol control boards.


The biggest change in the bill aims to address underage drinking. It would change the penalty for underage drinking from a misdemeanor crime to a $500 violation, akin to a ticket. The penalty could be reduced to $50 upon the completion of an alcohol awareness program.


Committee Chair Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna, said he plans to make one change to the bill that would make it so repeat offenders could only reduce their penalty to $250. The committee didn’t advance the bill on Wednesday but Olson said they planned to do it early this morning.


The bill is one of a handful of bills that appears on a fast track to pass the Legislature before the session is scheduled to end on Sunday.


The bill is already scheduled to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee at 1 p.m. today, its final stop before heading to the floor for a vote.