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Committee won’t swallow liquor sampling proposal

BOISE – A Hayden Lake representative’s spirited push for Idaho to allow liquor sampling at distilleries fell short Monday, when a deadlocked House committee shelved his bill on a tied vote.

Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, wanted to allow liquor sampling at Idaho distilleries, just like wine tasting is allowed at wineries and elsewhere. He noted that there are distilleries in Idaho Falls, Rigby, Caldwell, Boise, Eagle and Coeur d’Alene, with another proposed in Kootenai County – if it can do samplings.

“HB 393 is a small-business jobs bill,” Clark told the House State Affairs Committee. “The big emphasis here should be jobs – this is a jobs bill.”

But committee members had concerns about the higher alcohol content in distilled spirits compared with wine.

“You could really, technically, have 3 ounces of alcohol in less than an hour,” said Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise. “I’m just concerned about driving away under the influence, so I’m going to have to vote no on this one.”

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, asked Clark if there are any studies on “how many people drive an automobile to these booze boutiques.” Clark said no, but that most people likely do; he stressed, however, that the same drunken driving laws apply regardless of the bill.

Clark also told the committee that people likely wouldn’t swallow most of the alcohol they sample; he said at both wine and spirits tastings, “you taste it, you get the sense of it on the lips, then you spit it out.”

But Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, asked, “How are you going to stop them from swallowing it if it’s in their mouth?”

“I’m not trying to stop anybody from doing anything,” Clark responded.

Committee Vice Chair Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, said most people wouldn’t swallow the samples they taste of gin, because after four or five, “you can’t taste anything.”

But the committee deadlocked 8-8 on a motion to send the bill to the full House with a recommendation that it “do pass” – and that killed the bill. The committee’s two North Idaho members, Anderson and Rep. Mary Lou Shepherd, D-Prichard, supported the bill.

After the vote, Clark was disappointed. “Economic development, jobs bill – I guess they didn’t want that,” he said.