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Liquor license reform bill clears a state Senate committee

Matt Guilhem
Boise State Public Radio

The Idaho Senate could soon limit the private sale of liquor licenses as lawmakers try to reform the decades-old system.

Right now, liquor licenses can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars on the secondary market.

Bar and restaurant owners pay those prices because the state limits the issuance of new licenses based on population. The state can only issue a new license once a town or city gains an additional 1,500 people in population.

Some have been on the waiting list for decades.

This bill would allow current holders to sell their license one time, but new licensees could not. Those licenses would revert back to the state and would be issued to those on a waiting list.

An owner could transfer a license to their family members through a will while still allowing them to sell it later.

Ted Challenger, who owns several bars in downtown Boise, opposed the measure.

“We bought into this system,” said Challenger. “You guys designed it. You put it into play and we bought into it at quite a cost.”

Another problem pointed out by bar and restaurant owners is how the bill would address license leasing.

Under the plan, leases in effect before July 1 could run for the full term of the agreement, but no extensions would be allowed.

“Leases currently serve as a low-cost entry for those seeking a liquor license and any change to the existing licenses as it relates to the lease system needs to be thoughtfully implemented,” said Dave Crick, co-owner of several restaurants and bars in downtown Boise.

Several license holders asked lawmakers for more time to develop a comprehensive overhaul.

But Sen. Jim Guthrie (R-McCammon), who sponsors the bill, said that’s what opponents have been saying for decades.

“It’s been 23 years and every year it’s a delay,” Guthrie said.

The bill passed out of committee Monday morning and now heads to the Senate floor.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!