Liquor Task Force Preparing Recommendations

Nov 26, 2012

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A task force aimed at overhauling Kentucky's alcoholic-beverage regulations is preparing its report and recommendations to Gov. Steve Beshear, but members of the group say they are intentionally avoiding some of the larger issues surrounding alcohol sales.

While the task force will deal with some regulations dating back to Prohibition, the group will remain silent on state laws that allow more liquor licenses in Louisville than elsewhere, that close bars during elections and that prevent alcohol sales in groceries while allowing them in drug stores.

State Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, told The Courier-Journal that alcohol is a divisive issue and the urban-rural split among lawmakers makes it tough to pass bills related to alcohol.

"In northern Kentucky and here, we don't understand how it is in the eastern (part of the state) and the Bible Belt - but when you bring an alcohol bill on that House floor, it gets pretty dicey," Keene said last month after a public hearing in Louisville.

Wet jurisdictions in the rest of the state are limited to one package-liquor license for every 2,300 residents of a county and one drink-liquor license for every 2,500 residents.

Among the recommendations by commission members are that the state consolidate more than 70 types of liquor and beer licenses and a repeal of a law that requires county liquor stores and bars to close on the day a city or precinct holds a wet-dry vote.

The 22-member task force will vote on committee recommendations Dec. 13 and send them to Beshear.

Public Protection Cabinet Secretary Bob Vance called the recommendations "a first step" and a "trial balloon."

"The more we try to include, the more we increase the probability of not getting something passed," Vance said

The recommendations come just months after U.S. District Judge John Heyburn II ruled that Kentucky's law allowing alcohol sales at gas stations and drug stores but not groceries is unconstitutional because there's no justification for allowing drug stores that carry groceries to sell wine and liquor while banning it at a pharmaceutical-selling grocery store.

Enforcement of the ruling is on hold, however, while it is appealed by both the state and a northern Kentucky liquor store.

Vance said the issue is outside the scope of the committee's work.

Currently, an alcohol vote in a precinct or city stops alcohol sales in an entire county on the day of the election.

"The precinct thing is important because ... that does have a significant impact," said Distillers' Association President Eric Gregory. "But we're obviously still very supportive of repealing the prohibition of alcohol sales on election days."

The task force's licensing committee is seeking to streamline the more than 70 different types of licenses for the more than 13,000 alcoholic beverage licenses held by manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

The task force's goal is a balancing act "to make it a little bit easier for the retailers out there and the public," Keene said. "... We have a responsibility to make sure that the public's protected too, so it's a fine line. You can't make it so easy that you hurt the public."