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State House wants more pro-business alcohol regulation

Alcoholic Beverage Control Board critics want it moved from Public Safety to Commerce

Posted: April 5, 2012 - 11:09pm

The state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is too zealous about cracking down on alcohol violations, and the state’s hospitality industry is pressing the Legislature to rein the agency in.

The House of Representatives responded this week, voting to transferring control of the agency to the pro-business Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. It is currently part of the law enforcement-oriented Department of Public Safety.

Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, said the current ABC Board has been “overzealous in its persecution of a legal industry.”

Hawker has led the fight to move the agency, saying it would send a message to the industry.

“We recognize that they are engaged in a legitimate commercial activity and commerce in this state,” he said.

Hawker said he heard complaints about the overzealous agency from the industry, and concluded they were correct.

ABC Board Director Shirley Gifford, a retired Anchorage Police Department captain and Soldotna police chief, opposed moving the board from Public Safety, saying it would hamper the agency’s effectiveness.

Board investigators often work with Alaska State Troopers, also in the Department of Public Safety, she said.

Rep. Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage, said given Alaska’s ranking as the national leader in binge drinking, it shouldn’t be relaxing enforcement.

Alcohol abuse drives up the state’s health costs, and needs effective regulation, she said.

“One of the cost drivers, our biggest cost driver is the inappropriate use of alcohol,” she said.

She said the role of law enforcement in alcohol regulation was an appropriate message to send.

Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, said that enforcement focus is going too far with the current ABC Board, and a change of location would help.

“They’ve lost their mission of regulating legitimate businesses that employ tens of thousands of Alaskans, that’s important to me,” he said.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said the ABC Board’s focus is working, and now has an 88 percent compliance rate with its compliance checks.

Stoltze, who acknowledged supporting the change might be poor politics, said moving the agency wouldn’t restrict enforcing the law.

“There’s been no testimony from any of our agencies, including Public Safety, that it would diminish their abilities,” he said.

Gifford told legislators “transferring to another agency would be costly, would result in inefficiencies, and would likely require substantial effort to physically move the office.”

Hawker said the changes that would come to the ABC Board would be improvements that would come without reducing enforcement at all.

“We absolutely will not be compromising law enforcement,” he said.

House Bill 125 passed 34 to 6, with all Southeast representatives voting in favor. It now goes to the Senate.

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

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