Alaska: Alcohol industry speaks out against law reforms
Feb 24, 2016
The alcohol industry is against the latest, slimmed down rewrite of the state’s alcohol laws.
Multiple members of the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association (CHARR) testified against Senate Bill 165 during a hearing Tuesday out of fear that changes to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board would undercut the industry’s say in its own regulation.
The bill, authored by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, is an attempt to salvage pieces of a larger rewrite of alcohol laws that was tabled in light of industry opposition.
The most disagreeable piece of the new bill, according to CHARR CEO Dale Fox, relates to the composition of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board – two industry members, one public health member, one public safety member and one rural member – combined with a new provision to allow the non-voting director’s expertise to be factored in.
Under the bill a seat could be replaced with a member of the general public if the director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office has a
background in one of the fields.
The current director, Cynthia Franklin, has a background in public safety as the former prosecutor for the city of Anchorage.
Fox CHARR members “begrudgingly” supported the change during a years-long negotiation on a rewrite of the state’s alcohol laws, but said they couldn’t support it now without the industry-friendly “sweeteners” contained in the bill they pushed to table.
“Many compromises have been made on all sides,” Fox said. “In the support of every compromise is give and take. We did not support the composition of the ABC board, we think the board should be similar to any other industry board.”
He said the board makeup should wait to be brought back with the rest of the alcohol bill next year.
The change had support with people involved in alcohol and substance abuse treatment.
Elizabeth Ripley, the executive director of the Mat-Su Health Foundation, addressed the board composition during testimony.
“Alcohol is not an ordinary commodity like Matanuska-made milk or carrots, it has a downside. Alaska is the only state in the union that has given this industry such a prominent voice on its ABC board. Most states allow no industry voice,” she said. “(Alcohol) brings in some revenue, but it has enormous economic cost associated with its use, from crime to violence to preventable deaths and injury.”
Outside of the disagreement over the board composition, there was broad support for a change focused on rewriting the laws for minors caught drinking.
The change would change underage drinking from a crime to a citation, similar to a speeding ticket. The thinking is it will make it more likely law enforcement officers will write tickets and young people can avoid the long-term impact of having a criminal charge on their record.
Chuck Kopp, a legislative aide for Micciche who worked on the bill, said intervention is usually enough to get people back on track.
“Statistically 70 percent of young people after being caught for minor consuming don’t ever do it again,” he said.
Fox said CHARR supported the components related to underage drinking and could support the bill if it was pared down to just that.
“It makes more sense than what we’ve got now, which is a train wreck,” he said.