"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

A liquor comparative

Liquor legislation – that is, the law setting out who can consume, buy, sell and transport liquor, and to and from where and when, and probably more besides – is always a tricky matter in the Idaho Legislature.

liquor imageOne reason for that may be religious. Many members of the Idaho Legislature, at least a third and probably more, belong to religious groups that ban or discourage any drinking of alcohol. There’s also that constitutional provision encouraging temperance, though the implementation of it is open to multiple interpretations.

None of this has stopped House Bill 673, which has cleared both House and Senate. Since it was amended in the Senate (though not, evidently, in fundamental ways), another House vote is needed, but the odds strongly favor passage (and signature by the governor). This measure explicitly expands the number of places in the state where liquor can be sold, which often is a hard sell at the statehouse.

But this wasn’t just anyone calling. This was the new Tamarack Resort, a place with plenty of political pull, and the person bringing the bill was its lobbyist, Scott Turlington, who previously was a staffer for Governor Dirk Kempthorne. Introduced on February 13, it has marched steadily through the process. There were significant numbers of nay votes, 17 in the House and 12 in the Senate, but not enough to put it at risk.

To be clear: We see nothing at all wrong with a major resort like the Tamarack serving liquor. It’s a normal part of that business, and no significant downside to it is apparent. And the terms of the current bill seem, in the context of Idaho liquor law, reasonable.

But contrast the legislature’s response in this case to that of another – a bill that would not expand use of alcohol but simply ensure an existing business can continue to operate in the same trouble-free way it has for a generation.

That is House Bill 777, which like 673 is aimed mostly at helping one business, in this case The Flicks, a locally-owned movie theatre and restaurant in Boise. The bill’s sponsor was Representative Wendy Jaquet.

For many years, The Flicks has shown movies – that is its main purpose – but it also serves meals and snacks, and beer and wine – no hard liquor. Because it’s a theatre and the under-18 crowd can watch a number of movies there, questions have arisen in Boise about whether that represents a heightened risk of underage drinking. There isn’t, really; drinks are served in the restaurant area, which operates the same as the multitude of other Boise restaurants (or for that matter, restaurants at the Tamarack) that serve beer and wine and also feed kids. (It’s quite a distinction from something like, say, the Regal Cinemas.) The same issue arose last year in Oregon and was easily enough handled, with little change in procedure and no major fuss.

Some fuss has continued in Boise. So Jaquet introduced a bill intended to allow The Flicks keep on doing what it has been doing, with no problem or controversy, for a quarter century.

But this led to discussion about porn theatres (none of which exist any more in Idaho) and alcohol, and amendments on that subject. And finally, thebill failed on the floor 30-38.

That means 11 more House members were willing to expand substantial hard liquor sales at the Tamarack than were willing to allow the small theatre The Flicks to continue their small sales of beer and wine.

The reasons why probably don’t have much to do with temperance.

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