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Ambrose, council take on ABC reforms

(Published June 14, 1999)


Staff Writer

D.C. City Council, led by Councilwoman Sharon Ambrose, D-Ward 6, is mounting a fight to change how alcohol is bought and sold in the District.

Legislation now being considered would reform the city’s alcoholic beverage control laws by beefing up enforcement, limiting the number of liquor licenses and placing restrictions on alcohol advertising in the District.

The first of six bills under consideration by Ambrose’s Committee on Regulatory Affairs passed a first reading by the council and is scheduled for a second vote July 6. The bill places a permanent moratorium on Class B liquor licenses in the District and sets a cap of no more than 400 licenses in the city. Class B licenses allow a retailer to sell beer and wine only.

For the past several years, the council has passed temporary and emergency legislation to keep a moratorium in place, but last year the freeze expired and several new licenses were granted before the council had time to approve another moratorium. If approved in July, the moratorium would be permanent.

At a hearing June 1, the committee heard testimony on five similar bills. Representatives of alcohol wholesalers and distributors in the District testified against the more restrictive proposals and supported only one of the bills.

Neighborhood association representatives and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, on the other hand, testified in support of restrictions on the sale of alcohol in the District and voiced particular support for the Class B moratorium and a proposed ban on the sale of single containers of beer smaller than 40 ounces.

A bill proposing limits on the advertising of alcoholic beverages faces an uphill battle. The bill is intended to reduce underage drinking through a variety of means, including restricting the amount and types of alcohol advertising in the District.

Jeff Perlman, senior vice president of the American Advertising Federation, noted in his testimony that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar Rhode Island law in 1997. That law also sought to restrict alcohol advertising.

The most complex bill under consideration would overhaul the import permit system and require all servers and sellers to undergo required alcohol training programs. Fees generated by the training programs and the new import permit system would fund the enforcement of ABC laws. Last year, Congress passed a law requiring the city to hire 12 more ABC inspectors, but lack of funding has prevented that from happening.

One of the other bills under consideration would allow vendors to get only a one-day Class G license once a year. A Class G license allows individuals to sell beer and wine during special events but not as part of an established business.

The last bill discussed would more tightly define the term "establishment" that would tie certain liquor licenses to a specific location. The bill was introduced in response to a recent board ruling that allowed the 1720 Club, a downtown nightclub that features nude dancing, to move one block away, from 1720 H St. to 1716 I St. NW. The board allowed the nightclub to move its liquor license under a controversial corporation counsel ruling that said the term establishment as defined in the D.C. Code does not bind a license to a specific address.

A spokeswoman for Ambrose’s office said her committee does not expect the other proposed ABC law changes to come before the full council for a vote before the summer recess, but she said the committee will work throughout the summer to prepare more bills for council consideration.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator