Public Reacts To Proposed Liquor Cap Lifting On Guam

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Former senator: alcohol licensing laws already violated

By Louella Losinio

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety Guam, April 30, 2013) – The amended version of the "Responsible Alcoholic Beverage Control Act" – which lifts the liquor license cap on Guam– has produced strong reactions from some community members who voiced concern over the perceived lack of public input and the law's possible impact on the island.

An earlier version of Bill 88, authored by Sen. Michael F.Q. San Nicolas, exempts only premises located in Hagåtña and the Tumon-Tamuning area from the alcohol license cap set by current law.

However, the amended version introduced last week would lift the cap for all municipalities and also introduce new fees that would support the necessary government services needed to mitigate potential negative impacts to the community.

Current law limits the number of general alcohol licenses allowed to only one for each 200 inhabitants of the municipality where the establishments are located. Both Hagåtña and Tumon-Tamuning have exceeded their limits.

Attorney John Thos. Brown has stated his objections to the measure in his submitted testimony, stating the bill is a "knee-jerk reaction" to the Alcoholic Beverage Control licensing board’s rude awakening to the fact that Guam law, as most all other laws, actually provides a limit on the number of on-sale and off-sale liquor licenses.

The bill, he said, ignored the larger intent behind the original law, which is "to protect the general welfare and mitigate the impacts of retail establishments which sell alcohol."

He added the measure may have an increased overall impact to the island by allowing more retail establishments to apply for a liquor license.

Statistics

Citing statistics in a study conducted by the Washington Policy Center in 2011, Brown said Guam’s existing density ratio of only 200 inhabitants per licensed outlet allows 2.5 more licenses than Wyoming, which is the least restrictive state in the report.

"If Guam’s tiny limitation is decreased or repealed entirely, Guam will stand alone among the states in the U.S. as the only jurisdiction with no regard to effective numerical density regulation."

Referring to the report, Brown said "not one of the states shows a density ratio so loose as Guam’s existing limit of one outlet for every 200 inhabitants."

If the limit is repealed, he added, "Guam would stand alone. Is this how the legislature – the administration – seeks to distinguish our island?"

He also questioned how much notice was given with the introduction of the amended bill and if enough time was given for the public to know and be able to provide dialogue and input.

He said he encourages the committee chair, Sen. San Nicolas, "to drop efforts to facilitate the proliferation of liquor outlets and think more about the community interests expressed in the many studies done on this subject, if not the intent so plainly stated in the bill."

"It is already the most irresponsible jurisdiction in the country when it comes to regulating retail liquor outlet density. Don’t make it worse," Brown said.

Kasperbauer

Meanwhile, former Sen. Larry Kasperbauer also echoed Brown’s concern about the perceived fast-tracking of the hearing for the bill. Although there was a request for public input, he said, there was not enough time to gather comments from the community.

He also voiced concerns about the violations already taking place in terms of the issuance of liquor licenses.

"According to the census, there are some 19,000 people in the municipality of Tumon, which means you can have around 100 alcoholic beverage licenses in the area. At this time, I was told by a staff member of the Legislature that there were about 400. So the law has been violated and continues to be violated ever since we brought this to the attention of the Alcoholic Beverage Control licensing board," Kasperbauer said.

With the new license fees taking effect in 2015, he said little money would be generated from the proposed rates.

Based on the amendments to the licensing fees, San Nicolas is proposing an increase of $200 per alcohol license every two years, beginning in calendar year 2015 to conclude in the year 2023. By then, he said, the increases would go up to a total of $2,000 per establishment.

"Also, anybody who qualifies for a liquor license can get one and there is no limit to the number, which means that much effort is needed to monitor these establishments," Kasperbauer said.

To throw out any ratio at all, he said, makes the island the worst case example in the entire United States.

"We have senators who say they want input from the stakeholders. We have senators who say that they are for the family. I hope that they would stand up and fight for the chance to get public input," Kasperbauer said.

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