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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cheers! Accelerated liquor license bill advances through the Washington Senate

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, speaks during a floor session Feb. 02, 2024, in Olympia, Wash.   (Courtesy of Legislative Support Services)

Washington’s taverns and restaurants may soon have reason to raise a toast, as a bill that cleared the Senate floor on Tuesday makes it quicker for them to secure a liquor license.

It usually takes 60-90 days for an establishment to get a liquor license, but this number isn’t concrete. Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, has seen restaurants wait for months hoping to receive a license.

“Imagine, all you want to do is move a Mexican restaurant from one side of your community to the other, they’ve never done anything wrong, great people. Eight months to get their license,” he said.

Under Schoesler’s bill, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board has 45 days to issue a liquor license or renewal to businesses that apply, or else the applications will be automatically approved.

After multiple Eastern Washington businesses had trouble receiving their licenses, including Mi Jalisco and Porky’s Clubhouse Grill in Ritzville, along with Sonny’s Tavern in Washtucna, Schoesler was driven to make a change.

“You have to have certainty to order food, hire people (and” pay them,” he said. “… It’s simply making it easier to permit a small business.”

Furthermore, the bill grants the liquor board an additional 30 days to issue a license if “good cause” is determined, with a temporary license provided in the interim.

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, called this proposal a “good governance bill,” applauding Schoesler for his work in streamlining the process between the board and local communities.

Schoesler proposed this same bill last year, but it lapsed in the Senate with not enough time to receive a floor hearing.

Bridget Coon and her husband, Paul, are the owners of Sonny’s Tavern. When she got the keys to the restaurant on Aug. 1, her goal was to be open by October. Coon’s first priority was applying for the liquor license because she knew how long the process could take.

“You would think that some of the other things like the food and staffing could be hold-ups, but all of that was coming together pretty well,” Coon said, “while I still felt very much at the mercy of the workflow of the (liquor board).”

After not hearing from the board for weeks, Coon started copying Schoesler on her emails, hoping that would get her a quicker response. Only when Schoesler called the liquor board to intervene did her license show up – on the 45th day at 5 p.m.

“You shouldn’t have to call your senator to get a routine permit,” Schoesler said in an interview.

Since alcohol provides a large source of revenue, especially for small businesses with one location, like Sonny’s Tavern, Coon knew she didn’t want to open without the go-ahead to sell beer and wine.

“It’s not easy to figure out how to run a business profitably,” Coon said. “So, anything that Sen. Schoesler can do to make it feel less daunting is really important.”

Additionally, she highlighted that a complex or costly licensing process can discourage people from opening restaurants, particularly in small towns like Washtucna, which has a population of 1,800.

With Schoesler’s help, Coon met her goal and Sonny’s opened on Oct. 26.

“It’s so much fun to go there,” he said. “… I took my granddaughter in for a Bar U burger. We didn’t have that option before Bridget and Paul took over.”

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.