Bill Introduced to Create Interim Study of Alcohol Licensing

I think we can all agree Montana’s system of alcohol laws needs work.  Montana is not unique in that regard, but the recent efforts by the Montana Tavern Association to hamstring the brewing industry serve to highlight a particularly big schism caused by our laws.  That effort hasn’t gone away and the MTA is still expected to move forward with a bill that has already generated opposition around the state. 

But then a bright spot appears.  A touch of sanity. Some common sense even.

This afternoon, Representative Christy Clark introduce a House Joint Resolution to create an interim study of Montana’s current alcohol system.  The legislation is known as HJ 18 and has been referred to the House Business and Labor Committee.  What kind of reception it will receive remains to be seen, but it’s hard to argue with the sentiments expressed in the introductory text: 

WHEREAS, Title 16 of the Montana Code Annotated addresses the control and management of alcoholic beverages in the state and has evolved over time to address changes in licensees, new products, business relationships, and management practices; and

WHEREAS, Montana’s alcoholic beverage manufacturing businesses now include brewers, distillers, and wineries who have grown to be significant economic contributors and offer various products for retail and wholesale sales; and

WHEREAS, Montana retail license holders, distributors, and manufacturers have common interests in a well-managed alcohol control system that meets the needs of Montanans and the visiting public; and

WHEREAS, there is a range of options that should be considered for revising or adding to the existing licensing and regulatory structure to meet the needs of the industry, the public, agricultural interests, tourism, and the state’s economy; and

WHEREAS, a thorough interim study is needed to provide for further thoughtful, systematic, and bipartisan consideration of potential changes to Title 16, MCA, to address the above-stated issues.

 Amen to that.

If passed, the Joint Resolution would create an interim committee comprised of a wide variety of representatives from the alcohol, tourism, agriculture, hotel and restaurant, and economic development industries to conduct a thorough examination of Montana’s alcohol laws to “identify recommendations to streamline, improve, and update the alcohol licensing system and regulation in the state to meet the needs of the public, including safety, industry, agriculture, tourism, and the state’s economy.”  The findings, conclusions and recommendations of the study would be presented to the 64th Legislature in 2015.  Hey, these things take time.

Could it work?  That depends on the attitudes of the participants.  No solution is possible when people participate by staking out their positions while fighting to protect them.  But stranger things can happen when good ideas are brought to the table. 

If nothing else, it is a positive step toward ending the biennial bickering between brewers and tavern owners we face at every legislative session. 

For all our articles pertaining to the 2013 Montana Legislature, click here.