Washington state lawmakers are strongly supporting a House measure which would reduce licensing burdens for grocery store and wine or beer specialty stores. HB 1351 received its first public hearing after passing the House this week, showing little sign of slowing. The bill would create a combination spirits, beer, and wine license for those businesses. Proponents and stakeholders argued this would prevent business owners for going through excessive and unnecessary licensing processes.
Currently, grocery store or niche beer or wine shop owners must obtain a store license to sell beer, hard beer, or wine at their venues. If the owner wants to also sell spirits, he or she has to apply and pay for a second, separate license.
Streamlining Licensing Process
“The idea of getting one license rather than two creates efficiency especially when you have more than one store,” Carolyn Logue told the House Appropriations Committee on February 21, speaking on behalf of the Washington Retail Association.
Logue is Principal of CA Logue Public Affairs. She added, “You don’t get just one license for the company, you get the license per store, so you have stores out there that are getting two licenses for a number of stores, so the efficiencies that could be created here are pretty significant in the businesses.”
Combining Many Licenses Into One
The measure would allow grocery stores and beer or wine speciality shops currently holding a spirits retail license to transition into a combined license for spirits, beer, and wine. To be eligible, the business’ facility must be 10,000 square feet or larger, the state Liquor Control Board (LCB) must approve the licensing, and the owner must pay $316 per year for each store. The store must also maintain either a minimum of $3,000 inventory of either food products or beer, strong beer or wine.
The second substitute version of the bill increased the combination license fee from $250 to $316, and added eligibility for the typically smaller former state-owned or contract liquor stores.
A nearly identical bill, SB 5194, would also combine the licenses, but for a $250 annual fee. The measure stalled after a February 14 Senate Ways and Means Committee public hearing.
Bill Receives Full House Support
On March 6, the State House passed the measure in a unanimous vote. Prime sponsor of HB 1351 is State Rep. David Sawyer (D-29), and cosponsors include State Reps. Brandon Vick (R-18), Deputy Majority Leader Larry Springer (D-45), and Andrew Barkis (R-2).
“It’s good streamlining for small businesses and big businesses alike,” Sawyer told colleagues on the House floor.
Also in support of the measure, State Rep Cary Condotta (R-12) who said during executive session the bill has been updated to make sure the proposed changes would benefit all affected parties.
“We had to make some adjustments on this bill to negate the budget impacts, now it’s revenue neutral for the most part. We also included the small liquor stores that were left out originally and…the only person that was upset by this, and we think we’ve got them squared away,” he said.
“I represent a number of retailers that sell spirit, wine, and beer, and we think it makes sense that they should only have to buy one license in order to do this,” Mark Johnson, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Washington Retail Association, told the Senate Commerce, Labor, and Sports Committee on Wednesday, March 15.
During the public hearing, State Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33) expressed concern on whether the full $316 fee for the license was needed.
LCB Legislative and Tribal Liaison James Paribello replied the cost was to maintain balance with existing licensing fees. “We did feel that this was a good streamlining measure for our licensing division as well, and we worked with the industry to help draft it,” he added.