Bill Would Give Local Governments Control Over Liquor Licenses

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A pair of Arkansas lawmakers say they want you to have more control over whether you get to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer where you live.

They’ve filed a bill at the Capitol that would give local governments more control over some liquor licenses.

These two lawmakers say they were asked to bring this bill after a private liquor license was approved by the state, even though local officials were against it.

Now, others are speaking up about whether this bill is best for Arkansas.

“The pie gets bigger every year,” said Mike Coats, owner of Mike’s Place in Conway.

At Mike’s Place the company’s good, the food’s hot, and the drinks are cold; a combination Coats has made for a booming business.

“Conway is a growing community that has a lot of growing needs,” Coats said.

But it’s the growth in the number of places in Conway, and around the state, with private liquor licenses that’s shaking up controversy at the state capitol.

“I am always about returning power to the people and government that’s closest to the people serves best,” said Rep. John Payton, a Republican from Wilburn.

Representatives Payton and Josh Miller, (R) Heber Springs, have proposed a bill that would allow local city councils and quorum courts the right to say “no way” to drinking in dry communities.

Right now, if a business wants a private liquor license they apply to the State Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

“The ABC board has not listened to and ignored the wishes of folks in local communities,” said Rep. Miller.

In their bill, the ABC board would only consider new licenses after local governments say it’s OK.

“I’m not taking up the morality of the drink, just the morality of allowing the people to lobby an elected body, not just an appointed board,” said Rep. Payton.

But Coats says the bill would only create more red tape for already struggling small businesses.

“We don’t need a bigger government, we’ve already got that happening,” said Coats.

The mayor of Conway and the Arkansas Municipal League are also speaking out publicly against the bill, saying it could hurt local economies.

“We’ve got 32 percent liquor tax, so our cities enjoy that,” Coats said.

Either way, like drinks on a bar, both sides say they’ll be lining up to speak their minds about the bill.

And they’ll get that chance for the first time when this measure comes to the table Wednesday in the House Rules Committee.

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