Idaho’s 70-year-old system of doling out liquor licenses could get a makeover under legislation introduced March 3 in the Idaho House.
Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, says that the state’s current system is flawed because it only gives out a single liquor license for every 1,500 residents of cities. This quota system has resulted in long waiting lists, spawning complaints that system meant to promote “temperance and morality” has instead created bidding wars and rewards speculators.
The average going price for a liquor license in Ketchum, a resort city in central Idaho, is $233,000. In Boise, a license can go as high as $160,000. Most recently, a license went as high as $300,000 in Coeur d’Alene, a resort city, Malek said.
“Really, we’re getting at the policy issue of an unjust system and trying to make it a just system,” he said.
Malek’s bill would create a tier of licenses that counties and cities could sell to restaurants and lodging facilities. These licenses would come with annual fees not required of the traditional liquor licenses and carry more regulations, such as stricter requirements for training servers.
The state would continue to issue the same liquor licenses for bars. Additionally, the proposal provides license holders with a 10 percent discount at the state liquor monopoly and other benefits as a way to “buy-back” the high investments business owners usually have to pony up to get a license. The fees on the new licenses would help underwrite the discounts on the traditional licenses.
“It creates a system that will be equitable from here on out,” Malek said.
The last time the Legislature attempted to reform the state’s liquor license system was in 2009, which failed despite having the support of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. That plan was similar to the latest proposal submitted March 3 but Malek says he was worked with more stakeholders, including Idaho State Police, to make sure everyone on is board.
The House Ways and Means unanimously introduced the bill Friday with no debate or discussion. It must now clear a legislative hearing, which has not yet been scheduled. Despite legislative leaders working to adjourn by March 24, Malek said he’s hopeful his measure will pass without running out of time.
Idaho has approved 869 liquor licenses as of 2016.