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Alcohol Regulation Roundup: April 27, 2012

It's time once again for a review of the ever-changing, increasingly complex, regulation of alcohol around these United States. This should give you something to cheer and/or lament at happy hour tonight.

Connecticut: With only 20 days left in the state’s legislative calendar, supporters of liquor-law reform are getting nervous. Though we learned last month that an edited version of Governor Malloy’s proposal had wide-reaching support, Malloy brought the process to a halt. He says while the new proposal would legalize Sunday sales, the new striped-down version doesn’t do enough to help consumers. He wants to get rid of pricing laws that make liquor in the state more expensive than neighboring territories.

District of Columbia: Mayor Vincent Gray plans to bump up last call to 3 a.m. on weekdays and 4 a.m. on weekends with the hope of making streets safer. Unfortunately, more than 250 bars and restaurants, or 20 percent, will be excluded. During last Tuesday's discussion of the “bar bill,” we learned that ABRA decided that bars with existing voluntary agreements with their neighborhoods would be exempt. Of the 1,169 liquor licensees in the city, 409 have voluntary neighborhood agreements and 267 of those include closing hour restrictions.

Illinois: Last month, Chicago overturned a 15-year-old ban on alcohol advertising on its transit system. The move will bring an estimated $3.2 million in additional revenue, but anti-alcohol groups are predictably unhappy about the change.

Mississippi: This month, Governor Phil Bryant gave his signature of approval to a bill that would finally raise the cap on the allowable amount of alcohol sold in the state. Bill 2878 raises the cap from 5 percent alcohol by weight (about 6 percent ABV) to 8 percent ABW. While true craft beer enthusiasts will still need to engage in a bit of bootlegging to get the stronger stuff, kudos to folks at Raise Your Pints Mississippi, the grassroots organization that has fought for beer consumers in the state for several years. The law will go into effect on July 1 -- just in time for Independence Day.

Nebraska: As of December 15, caffeinated alcoholic drinks will be illegal in the state thanks to a vote by the Liquor Control Commission.

New Hampshire: Despite the fact that the House of Representatives rejected attempts to legalize the sale of spirits in grocery stores, the Grocers Association is making another attempt, this time in the Senate. However, those senators who are speaking about the proposal do not seem to be warming up to the idea of liquor in convenience or grocery stores.

Oklahoma: Oklahomans for Modern Laws, a grassroots group, is seeking signatures on a petition to let counties vote on whether or not they want grocery stores and convenience stores to sell wine. Here’s to hoping they add full-strength beer to that petition, since it’s also only sold in liquor stores. Other legislators have introduced measures that would put the question to a vote and the odds are good that Oklahomans for Modern Laws will gather enough signatures to get on the ballot.

Utah: Last month, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit brought by the Utah Hospitality Association against the state which alleged that the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) was unconstitutionally influencing lawmakers on alcohol regulations. The judge, however, gave the association 20 days to alter the wording of its suit. Last week, the association filed a revised suit which focuses on specific laws with which they take issue, including a ban on discounted drinks, and that claims some of the laws are unconstitutionally vague.

Virginia: The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board reviews its regulations every three years and takes suggestions from the public on possible changes. This year, the board may consider altering laws that make it illegal to advertise “happy hours,” allow nudity and alcohol in adult clubs, extend happy hour until 2 a.m., and allow bars to serve liquor by the pitcher. In other Virginia news, Governor Bob McDonnell’s attempt to privatize the state-run liquor store system stalled, thanks in large part to his own party’s lack of help. Now we learn that State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli will not take up the issue of privatization if he is elected governor, according to the giddy reports of the Virginia Beer Wholesalers Association. His reasons reportedly are not ideological: he still supports the concept of privatization. It seems “The Cuch” simply wants to avoid the bloody fight in which McDonnell found himself.

Washington State: Sales of state-owned liquor stores drew revenue over $30 million. This is slightly higher than the pre-approval forecast, which estimated that the one-time revenue from selling state-store licenses would be around $28 million.