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Lawmaker Tries To Make Liquor Licensing Easier Democrat Says Restaurants Shouldn’t Have To Lobby Legislature

Fourteen Shoshone County bars and restaurants have been able to get liquor licenses under a special law passed in 1990 - but not Gloria’s Steak House.

And if the Prichard restaurant wants to sell hard liquor, its only choice is to do what Hayden Lake’s Clark House did for the past two years - lobby the Legislature for a specially designed law.

Rep. Larry Watson doesn’t think that’s right.

“It seems ridiculous that for somebody who has a business to have a liquor license outside the city limits, they’ve got to go and spend two years at the Legislature working through us to get it done,” Watson said. “There ought to be some vehicle.”

So Watson, D-Wallace, is working with Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, on legislation that would allow businesses like Gloria’s to get liquor licenses.

Their proposal calls for businesses located five miles outside city limits, that have had beer and wine licenses for 10 years and serve at least two meals a day, to be allowed to apply for nontransferable liquor licenses.

The proposal also may require that the business be involved in the recreation or tourist business, Watson said.

The plan comes because Idaho’s liquor laws leave decisions on licenses up to the Legislature - not to local authorities such as county commissioners. Counties can grant beer and wine licenses, and incorporated cities are allowed to issue liquor licenses based on a quota system of one license for every 1,500 residents.

But when it comes to a license to sell liquor by the drink out in the country, it takes a law.

That’s why Idaho has more than a dozen special liquor license laws on the books.

Wineries, golf courses, ski resorts, fraternal clubs and waterfront resorts all qualify for special licenses.

So do equestrian facilities of at least 40 acres that have at least three days a year of professionally sanctioned rodeo, airport restaurants where the airport is operated by a county or city and has certified airline service, and gondola resort complexes.

Thanks to a law enacted in 1990 at the urging of former Osburn Rep. Marti Calabretta, Idaho also allows food, beverage or lodging facilities that have been in continuous operation at the same location for at least 75 years to get licenses.

Although the law was aimed at the landmark Enaville Resort, it’s allowed 24 longtime businesses across the state to get liquor licenses, according to the state Bureau of Alcohol Beverage Control. That includes 19 in North Idaho - 14 of them in Shoshone County.

Watson said Gloria’s Steak House owner Cliff Rehart approached him because his competitors qualified for “historic” liquor licenses, but he didn’t.

“It enabled everybody around him that had any kind of bar and has been a bar forever to have a liquor license,” Watson said. “He’s sitting up there, he’s serving three meals a day, does a nice job. He can’t compete with those folks.”

Watson said when he talked to Jaquet, he learned that businesses in her Ketchum-area district were facing similar problems.

Gary Gould, the lobbyist who pushed the special bill for the Clark House and himself a former state legislator, said Idaho’s liquor license system is “really hard to use and to understand.”

“I think it takes from the time of the Legislature, and they deal basically with an issue that should be dealt with at the local level,” he said.

Because it’s not constitutional to pass “special” legislation for only one person or business, the liquor license exemption laws try to pinpoint specific situations by laying out narrow conditions.

In the Clark House’s case, the law allows a liquor license for any food, beverage and lodging facility with at least five rooms, in a structure that’s at least 75 years old and has been on the Historic Register at least 10 years, within 500 yards of a natural lake with at least 32 miles of shoreline, in a county with a population of 65,000 or more.

The Clark House bill passed the Senate in 1996, but died in a House committee. It took another try last year to finally get the bill through.

Then, when the owners went in to get their liquor license, they had to verify how many miles of shoreline Hayden Lake had in order to qualify.

Said Gould, “I personally think it’s about time that the process was changed.”

, DataTimes