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Idaho House decries liquor, kills license bill

BOISE - Idaho House members decried the evils of liquor in an extended debate this morning, then killed Gov. Butch Otter’s major legislation to revamp the state’s liquor license system.

“I would urge you to vote no against this bill because I do think it will change Idaho as we know it,” Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, told the House, noting proudly that he lives in a dry county.

Rep. Jim Marriott, R-Blackfoot, his voice breaking, told the House, “In 1950 my dad was hit head-on by a drunk driver. … he spent the rest of his life as a cripple.

After more than two hours of debate, the Idaho House voted 42-28 against Otter’s liquor legislation which sought to end the state’s 62-year-old population-based quota system and let localities approve new liquor licenses for restaurants or hotels.

Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, the bill’s House sponsor, said the current system doesn’t work, and has spawned numerous special exemptions approved by the Legislature. Clark said, “I do not believe that this is going to increase liquor consumption. I believe it’s going to lessen it.”

Numerous House members disagreed, however, with several warning that alcohol consumption violates the state constitution’s goals of temperance and morality. Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, speculated that the bill would lead to thousands of new drinking establishments across the state. “I think this is a bill that would change the complexion of Idaho,” Hart declared. “In the last few decades we’ve shut down most of our mining in this state, we’ve shut down most of our timber, and now we’re going to resort to loosening up our alcohol regulations so we can promote economic activity? If that’s what we have to do, I think we’ve lost our way.”

Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said, “If we’re going to have food establishments have the ability to sell alcohol where families are there in a family setting, what kind of an example are we setting for our young people? … That bothers me.”

Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, was one of the few House members to debate in favor of the bill. He said Idaho’s original liquor license quota system was imposed in 1959 to protect existing businesses from competition. “The existing law we have now … has caused restrictive business practices,” Anderson told the House. “Open up this market to fair competition. … I don’t agree … that it’s going to change the nature of Idaho. The counties and cities still have the ability and the authority to restrict whatever happens. … We all talk about local control until it comes down to being able to trust local control.”

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, spoke against the bill, but said he doesn’t like the current system either. “It’s a can of worms, but with this new bill, it just adds more worms to the can, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Because there’ll be more consumption, we’re gonna have more social ills to take care of.” The bill, SB 1148, earlier passed the Senate on a 23-12 vote; the governor convened a task force that worked for the past two years to craft the legislation.

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