Anchorage businesses divided after Senate passes alcohol regulations

Published: Feb. 27, 2020 at 9:26 PM AKST
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The Alaska Senate passed a bill Thursday that would change state alcohol laws. Anchorage bar owners and alcohol manufacturers are divided on the fairness of the bill.

Senate Bill 52 would, among other things, allow alcohol manufacturers -- breweries, wineries, distilleries -- to keep their tasting rooms open two hours later than they’re currently allowed.

Channel 2 spoke with several Anchorage bar owners on Thursday, asking for their reactions to this change. They all wanted to remain anonymous but essentially agreed that the bill is unfair towards bar owners.

Distilleries, breweries, and the like are competition for bars, and keeping their tasting rooms open longer increases that competition.

Bar owners pay a $2,500 fee every two years to be able to serve alcohol, but distilleries and breweries pay half that to serve their products in tasting rooms. This disparity in the cost of licensing is a huge point of contention.

“If you want to be part of this market, pay your dues,” one bar owner said.

Manufacturers have said their significant production costs balance out the disparity.

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, who sponsored SB 52, says the bill is a product of years of negotiation between stakeholders including Alaska CHARR, the biggest trade association representing bars, and the Brewers Guild of Alaska.

“This bill is a compromise bill representing over 13,000 hours of volunteer work from 100+ representatives of the alcohol industry, manufacturers, municipalities and public health/safety from all over Alaska,” Micciche said. “The bill primarily deals with improving public safety for a substance that adversely affects the lives of more Alaskans than all other abused substances combined. The bill is a balanced and delicate compromise between an important industry and public safety.“

While Micciche says SB 52 represents compromise, Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, former owner of the Blue Loon, says he's hearing from a lot of bar owners who are unhappy about the new bill.

"… (bar owners) can't manufacture. They can't sell bottles out the front door. They can only sell drinks. And the manufacturers can do all of the above,” Wool said. “They have a lot of latitude with their licensures. I personally feel like there should be a little more equity or fairness between the existing license holders and the new industry."

There would be some limitations on breweries. The bill would put a cap on the number of new brewery developments in boroughs and municipalities across Alaska. Local governments would have to petition the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office for an exemption.

Matt Tomter, Co-owner of the Matanuska Brewing Company, acknowledges the bill isn’t perfect but says it’s a step in the right direction.

“Does everybody get exactly what they want? No,” Tomter said. “But it was a really good example of how people can come together to reach a consensus to get a necessary law passed.”

SB 52 now heads to the House, where it will be subject to public comment and will either be amended or sent back to the Senate for final vote.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to include the viewpoint of the sponsor of SB 52, Sen. Micciche.
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