State's alcohol laws need to be studied

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Editorial: July 25, 2012

ISSUE: Revision of beverage rules
OUR VIEW: Confusion here proves task force is needed

A state task force is being created to simplify Kentucky’s alcoholic beverage laws, which were described in a governor’s announcement as outdated and contradictory.

If Hardin Countians’ recent experience is any indication, this mission is much needed. The rules are about as clear as Kentucky’s prized barrel-aged bourbon.

Kentucky has more than 13,000 licenses issued to manufacturers, distributors and retailers with more than 70 different license types and regulations, according to published reports.

As organizers planned the 2011 effort that eventually allowed the sale of alcoholic beverages in Elizabethtown, Radcliff and Vine Grove, applicants believed their efforts would result in cities having complete wet status.

Before collecting names on petitions, they consulted the Alcoholic Beverage Control staff attorney in Frankfort and made decisions based on those assurances.

It was months later after the ballot initiative had been approved that local officials discovered their error. It was assurances from the same attorney that pointed out the differences. Somewhere in the conversations confusion arose based on the complexities of Kentucky’s laws.

Because Elizabethtown and Vine Grove are identified as fourth-class cities, the voter-approved referendum does not provide for operation of bars. By-the-drink service still is dictated by restaurant allowances that require 70 percent of sales to come from food.

Radcliff, however, is permitted to issue bar licenses because of its status as a second-class city.
Because of the confusion last year, the local group Yes for Economic Success is collecting signatures again, hoping to ask Elizabethtown voters to allow bars.

In calling for the study of Kentucky’s alcohol laws last week, Gov. Steve Beshear clearly defined the task force’s mission.

“Many groups, including licensees, state regulators, law enforcement and private citizens have called for statutory reform of our alcoholic beverage laws. They agree Kentucky’s current laws do not adequately account for a 21st-century economy and standard of law,” he said. “A task force that includes members from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and professions is best suited to identify the problems, debate policy and make recommendations for improvements.”

Specifically, the task force will be charged with reviewing:

  • The number and types of alcohol licenses issued by the state and what activities each license should authorize.
  • The effectiveness of local option election laws in achieving their goals and representing the interests of the various voting localities.
  • The enhancement of public safety and compliance with regulatory requirements.

We’re sure to hear more about their findings. The report is due to the governor by January and any changes would require legislative approval.

Public Protection Cabinet Secretary Bob Vance was named to head the 20-member task force, which includes business interests from state associations representing liquor, beer and wine whole sellers and retailers, microbreweries and vineyards as well as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and governmental groups.

That’s a broad range of interests. The hope is they can set aside any differences and produce clear and simplified regulatory recommendations.

These issues are quite emotional and do not need to be confusing and complicated as well.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise's editorial board.