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Barkeep: A round of booze hearings

OLYMPIA – Getting a drink of alcohol in a movie theater, a farmer’s market, even a senior center or a massage,  would be easier under a series of proposals considered Monday by a Senate panel.

Getting a taste of that $90 a bottle whiskey or the merlot from an unfamiliar winery selling its wares at a farmers’ market would be possible, too.

While that might make consumers happy, it has folks in the substance abuse community worried that relaxing state liquor licensing laws will mean more places where kids will see adults drinking and where recovering addicts will be tempted alcohol. . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, go inside the blog.

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee had 11 different proposals Monday involving alcohol, most of them to relax different restrictions on consumption. Some movie theaters want the ability to serve beer, wine or distilled spirits, and let patrons take drinks to their seats rather than having to gulp drinks down in a special room during intermission.

It may be the only way the small theaters can compete against the multiplexes, owners said.

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said she's fine with allowing them to sell beer and wine, but had some reservations about mixed drinks: "I've always found martinis particularly lethal."

Sen. Nick Harper, sponsor of the bill that includes distilled spirits in the drinks a theater can serve, said he worked his way through college as a bartender and knows people can be "overserved" on beer and wine just like they can on liquor. The theaters should be able to make a "business decision" on what they want to serve.

Retailers, too, want the ability to offer samples of distilled spirits. One new law would allow up to three samples, totalling 1.5 ounces, for a customer to sample different liquors. Washington allowed that type of sampling at state-owned liquor stores for a short period, but when Initiative 1183 took the state out of the liquor business, it wiped out the ability to offer samples of distilled spirits. 

After I-1183 passed, the consumption of liquor stayed about the same, but the consumption of high-end products went down as the fees and taxes went up. With some products costing as much as $90 a bottle, a buyer may be reluctant to spend that on something he or she never tasted, a lobbyist for retailers said.

Farmers markets also had a pilot program for tasting wine and beer three years ago. It was successful and should be expanded to help promote local wineries and microbreweries, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, the sponsor, said.

Senior centers, too, want an expanded ability to hold events, including fund-raisers, that serve alcohol. Right now, they can hold a limited number, and must file a request 45 days in advance.

Day spas want the ability to offer their patrons a glass of wine or beer during a pedicure or after a massage. Some do it right now, even though it's against the law, Keiser, the bill's sponsor. said.

Having a glass of wine after a massage, then getting in a car and driving sounded like a really bad idea to Mary Ellen Dela Pena of the Washington Association of Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention. Many of the proposal would expand the need of the already stretched Liquor Control Board to do "compliance checks", to make sure these new locations were following laws on not over serving or allowing minors to be present, she added.

"There's a creep in society about the number of localities where alcohol is served," Derrick Franklin, president of the association, said. That means fewer and fewer locations where children can go and not be exposed to alcohol consumption.

Here's a list of the liquor bills the Commerce and Labor Committee is considered Monday:

  1. SB 5045- Allowing day spas to offer or supply without charge wine or beer by the individual glass to a customer for consumption on the premises.
  2. SB 5111- Creating a beer and wine theater license. (Hearing is on the Proposed Substitute.)
  3. SB 5607- Concerning beer, wine, and spirits theater licenses.
  4. SB 5238- Concerning recommendations for streamlining reporting requirements for taxes and fees on spirits.
  5. SB 5261- Prohibiting certain liquor self-checkout machines.
  6. SB 5303- Concerning the identification of wineries, breweries, and microbreweries on private labels.
  7. SB 5310- Creating a senior center license.
  8. SB 5396- Concerning limited on-premise spirits sampling.
  9. SB 5517- Changing the criteria for the beer and wine tasting endorsement for grocery stores.
  10. SB 5628- Allowing multiple liquor licenses at the same physical premises.
  11. SB 5674- Allowing wine and beer sampling at farmers markets.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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