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Alcohol industry gets more 'collaborative' regulator

Posted: June 4, 2012 - 11:02pm

Gov. Sean Parnell has signed into law a bill moving the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board from the Department of Public Safety to the more business-oriented Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development.

The agency move has been pushed by the alcohol industry, and opposed by non-profit and advisory groups dealing with alcohol’s impact and treatment.

House Bill 125, signed by Parnell on Friday, was sought by the industry, which wants the ABC board to focus more on working cooperatively with the industry.

Dale Fox of the Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association said the move would not diminish the law enforcement aspect of the board’s work, because all the laws would remain the same.

One of the industry’s legislative allies, Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, pushed for the bill. He said the Department of Commerce is just a better home for the board.

That department “has experience licensing and regulating lawful commerce,” Hawker aide Juli Lucky told legislators.

She said the board’s mission would remain the same, but by being in the Department of Commerce instead of Public Safety there would be a change.

“The board takes on the character of an umbrella agency,” she said.

Currently, by being in Public Safety, the industry is treated to law enforcement ticketing instead of a collaborative relationship, she said.

ABC Board vice-chairwoman Ellen Ganley of Fairbanks told the Legislature the board was already in the right place.

“The liquor industry is not like other industries in Alaska; it is about alcohol and the problems it causes throughout the state,” she said.

The ABC board is made up of public and industry members, and was divided on HB 125.

The board’s executive director, Shirley Gifford, is a retired Anchorage Police Department captain of detectives and Soldotna chief of police. Its investigators are law enforcement officers and carry guns.

The bill passed the House 31-7, with Reps. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, and Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, both in support.

In the Senate, however, it was referred to the Senate’s Labor and Commerce Committee, chaired by Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau.

The bill looked dead, when suddenly, just after 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning, the last day of the legislative session, Egan’s committee met for four minutes and passed the bill out of committee.

Egan said the decision to move the bill was made by the Senate’s Bipartisan Working Group caucus, not by him.

Opponents in a rushed hearing made a last-ditch attempt to stop it in the Senate Finance committee.

The board is an enforcement agency, which currently doesn’t have much power but would see what it has diminished with the move, said Matt Felix of Juneau, with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

“To dumb down the board at this point would be somewhat ludicrous,” Felix said.

The bill passed the Senate 16-4, with Egan voting in favor of it.

Parnell’s signature Friday came with no public ceremony or press release. The bill takes effect July 1.

Gifford said the board was now preparing for the move, including finding new office space. It will move from its current location on Anchorage’s Tudor Road with other Public Safety personnel to new space with Commerce, possibly in Anchorage’s Atwood Building. It is also preparing for changes to its phone numbers, website host, letterhead, and other administrative matters.

“We’re going into the move with a good, positive attitude,” she said.

It may take a month or two into the new fiscal year to make the change, and the board will then set about notifying those with whom it does business of its new information, she said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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