Alaska governor signs liquor rewrite bill, but some changes will take time
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – As the sun shines on the Anchorage golf course, Governor Mike Dunleavy signed into law Senate Bill 9 last Thursday, which will implement sweeping changes to the laws of the alcohol in Alaska.
“I just want to thank everyone who worked hard on this,” Dunleavy said to applause, holding up the signed invoice for the cameras. “Congratulations, everyone.”
The signing ceremony was far from certain. It took more than nine years and several near misses for the bill to pass the Alaska Legislature at the end of the last legislative session.
Outgoing Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, was the bill’s chief sponsor and said it was “an exciting time” to see it signed into law. He explained that representatives from bars, beer halls and public safety organizations spent thousands of hours negotiating a compromise deal despite vastly different priorities.
“It’s an example of how the political process can work,” Micciche said.
Large parts of the 127-page bill simply revamp and “modernize” the state’s 40-year-old liquor laws, but several provisions focus on public safety.
Tiffany Hall, head of Recover Alaska, spoke at the ceremony and said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, Alaska had alcohol-related deaths at twice the national average. During the pandemic, Alaska’s rates soared 31%.
The bill seeks to limit alcohol consumption among minors through better education. It is changing the way penalties for several alcohol-related offenses are imposed in an effort to make them more effective and it is also implementing mail and online alcohol sales tracking in small communities across the country. hope of ending smuggling.
The legislation updates liquor licensing in a way that better matches the way Alaskans drink, supporters say. Breweries will be able to purchase a license and operate as a traditional bar that serves food, and bar owners will be able to apply for a license to brew their own beer.
These changes are expected to take effect on January 1, 2024, once the Office of Alcohol and Marijuana Control drafts and passes new regulations. Alaskans who like to visit brewpub bars will also have to wait until then to see any changes in how they operate:
- The tasting rooms will then be able to open at 9 a.m. and close at 9 p.m., instead of 8 p.m.
- They will be able to organize four live music concerts each year.
- Fundraisers, brewery tours and art exhibits in tasting rooms will be set by law and cannot be changed by regulation.
- The daily consumption limit of 36 ounces in breweries will remain unchanged
Lee Ellis, president of the Alaska Brewers Guild, was a key figure in the negotiations and said it was a “huge achievement” and a relief to see the bill signed into law. He runs Midnight Sun Brewing Co. in Anchorage and wants to apply for the new restaurant bar license.
“I think it would be more fun to have that kind of license that allows a little more freedom,” he said.
One aspect of the bill that has raised questions about its fairness concerns the population limits for new dining room licenses; they will be limited to one per 9,000 residents in Alaskan communities. Ellis described it as a “gift” for reaching strong agreement among a diverse group of stakeholders.
Long-standing disputes between traditional bar owners and brewers are known as the “bar wars”. After almost a decade, Micciche is ready to call for a permanent ceasefire.
“The bar wars are over,” he said after the signing ceremony. “I think you’re going to see people coming together, and that’s what this whole bill is about.”
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