Battle brewing over ABC board's regulation in Alaska

The Anchorage Daily NewsFebruary 17, 2011 

A fierce battle is brewing in Juneau over alcohol regulation.

One side, led by the bar, liquor store and restaurant lobby, says the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is consumed by its police role and treats businesses selling alcohol like criminal organizations.

The other side includes public health officials and law enforcement, who oppose what they see as a weakening of the ABC Board's capabilities. A change proposed at the urging of the liquor lobby would simply move the board from one state agency to another, but the opponents say it is sorely misguided, considering the trouble that alcohol abuse causes across Alaska.

At issue: House Bill 125, which would transfer the ABC Board from the state Department of Public Safety to the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development.

The board regulates the sale, possession and manufacture of alcohol in Alaska. Its staff can investigate both criminal and civil cases, such as accusations of selling alcohol to a minor or employing bartenders who haven't completed required alcohol awareness training.

The measure wouldn't change the board's legal authority but both sides say it would send a message about the board's proper role.

"The bad guys need to be put in jail but we should not automatically presume that every purveyor of alcohol in the state of Alaska is part of a criminal conspiracy, which is very much how the attitude of the board has evolved," said state Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage and the chairman of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, which introduced the bill.

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