Rights to serve 

Liquor license revamp passes first hurdle

Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter's plan to get the state out of the liquor licensing business passed its first legislative hurdle Monday, surviving a vote of the Senate State Affairs Committee and heading for a full Senate vote.

Several bar owners from across the state testified that the bill would damage the value of their licenses by allowing cities and counties to begin issuing their own liquor permits.

Attorney and former legislator Brian Donesley testified that bar owners consider their licenses to be a property right that the state cannot take or devalue and that the bill is grossly unfair.

"We have a Constitutional problem with this bill," Donesley said, according to an Associated Press report.

But while some licensees argue their permit to sell liquor by the drink is a property right and protected from government takings, recent letters from the Idaho Office of Attorney General indicate otherwise.

BW obtained a pair of Idaho Attorney General's Office memos to legislators—to Sen. R. Skip Brandt in 2006 and Rep. Tom Trail in 2007—that emphatically state that liquor licenses are a privilege and not a right.

"A liquor license does not create a contract between the state and the licensee; it is permission only, subject at all times to the control of the state, and may be revoked and terminated without the state in any way being obligated to the licensee for any damages that may result by reason of the state's action," wrote Deputy Attorney General Stephanie A. Altig in the AG memos.

"Their letter's not worth any more than my letter," Donesley told BW.

Three State Affairs members voted against the measure: Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis of Idaho Falls, Sen. Monty Pearce, a New Plymouth Republican, and Sen. Kate Kelly, a Boise Democrat.

The bill allows current liquor license holders keep their permits. They can also transfer their licenses anywhere in the state and they get an additional discount on liquor purchases.

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