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Panel Spikes Liquor License Bill Measure Sponsored By Watson Would Have Let More Rural Restaurants Serve Hard Liquor

A House panel made sure Gloria’s Steak House can’t serve martinis when it killed a bill Wednesday that would have granted the Prichard restaurant a liquor license.

The House State Affairs Committee rejected a bill by Rep. Larry Watson, D-Wallace, that would have helped businesses like Gloria’s get licenses to serve hard liquor.

The measure would have given county commissioners the ability to grant nontransferable liquor licenses to businesses located five miles outside city limits that have had a beer and wine license for 10 years and serve at least two meals a day.

“It’s really important in the food business to serve them the beverage they want to have,” Gloria’s owner Cliff Rehart said. “A martini drinker is not going to settle for a beer. It puts a handicap on those businesses without a liquor license.”

For 20 years, Rehart has operated Gloria’s - a tourist stop on the Coeur d’Alene River that includes a hotel, grocery store and launderette.

The state’s complicated liquor laws hinder county bars from serving hard liquor.

In 1990, a law was passed allowing food, beverage or lodging facilities that have been in continuous operation at the same location for at least 75 years to get licenses.

Fourteen Shoshone County bars and restaurants were granted liquor licenses, but not Gloria’s.

Watson told lawmakers that his bill would have helped unravel the state’s snarled liquor-license laws. Before killing the bill, lawmakers said they want an interim committee to study the state’s liquor-license problems before they make changes.

Watson estimated that about 43 business would have qualified for a hard-liquor license under his proposal, which required establishments to have ties to recreation or tourism.

“This means no new booze joints opening at each mile marker along the county road,” Watson said. Sen. Jack Riggs, R-Coeur d’ Alene, tried to help Watson pass the measure by testifying about the similarity between beer, wine and hard liquors such as gin and whiskey.

“I want to clear up the confusion about alcohol in general,” the Coeur d’ Alene doctor said. “We make a distinction in law between beer and wine and liquor. The reality is that the active alcohol unit is exactly the same in beer, wine, alcohol or liquor. The only difference is concentration.”

Rep. Jeff Alltus, R-Hayden, questioned if county law enforcement was adequate to patrol county bars.

Watson said the new law would have only applied to establishments that already had a beer and wine license.

“It doesn’t create a problem that’s not already in place,” Watson said.

, DataTimes