Brandon Howard, a cofounder of Amalga Distillery, left, serves mixed drinks to Nick Thein and Terra Veler at the distillery’s tasting room at Franklin and Second Streets on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, has proposed a bill that would allow the distillery to keep serving cocktails. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire file)

Brandon Howard, a cofounder of Amalga Distillery, left, serves mixed drinks to Nick Thein and Terra Veler at the distillery’s tasting room at Franklin and Second Streets on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, has proposed a bill that would allow the distillery to keep serving cocktails. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire file)

Legislator seeks ceasefire in bar wars

Alaska’s House Majority Leader has proposed a way to end the trouble afflicting distilleries in Alaska.

On Friday, Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, proposed a bill that would clarify that distilleries are allowed to serve cocktails using the alcohol they manufacture. That’s an issue that has tied the state Alcohol Control Board in knots for months.

In 2014, the Alaska Legislature allowed distilleries to open tasting rooms for customers to try samples. The bill allowing the tasting rooms said in part: “a holder of a distillery license may sell not more than three ounces a day of the distillery’s product to a person for consumption on the premises.”

The problem was that the bill didn’t define “a distillery’s product” or explicitly allow cocktails. Tuck’s bill, House Bill 269, does so and states: “The holder of a distillery license may combine the distillery’s product … with other ingredients, including mixers, liquids, or garnishes, that are not alcoholic beverages.”

After complaints from bar owners, the alcohol board has been examining the topic with an eye toward halting cocktail sales altogether. They have argued that allowing distilleries to serve cocktails makes them resemble a bar, which faces higher licensing costs. Distilleries say doing so would crush a nascent industry clearly demanded by residents. A vote on the issue has been scheduled for Jan. 23 in Juneau.

“The executive director is leading the board down to wanting to regulate soft drinks, orange juice and mixers that might go into a distilled beverage. That was never our intention,” Tuck said by phone Friday.

He said he believes the bill could move rapidly, with a single referral to the House Labor and Commerce committee before a floor vote.

Tuck’s bill wasn’t the only one introduced Friday as lawmakers released a second batch of bills in the Legislature’s preseason, the eight-day period before the official start of the Legislature. Lawmakers are permitted to prefile bills with the Legislature before it convenes on Tuesday. Prefiling legislation allows other lawmakers and the public to get a preview of an idea and start discussion. While prefiling a bill allows more time for the public and lawmakers to consider it, there’s no guarantee of success. Only about one in five prefiled bills in the 29th Legislature became law, and the pace of the 30th Legislature has been much slower.

Lawmakers are expected to spend much of this year (as last year) dealing with the state’s multibillion-dollar deficit, meaning non-budget items are likely to get short shrift. That hasn’t stopped lawmakers from filing legislation that meets the needs of their constituents or addresses a need they see in the state.

Here’s a list, with one-sentence summaries, of each bill prefiled Friday:

House Bills

HB 267 (Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham) — The state has to release hunting and fishing records to local governments if they tax hunting and fishing.

HB 268 (Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage) — Takes a variety of steps to fight the state’s opioid-abuse epidemic.

HB 269 (Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage) — Distilleries can serve cocktails.

HB 270 (Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River) — The state can’t charge a fee to register aircraft or penalize people for not registering their aircraft.

HB 271 (Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage) — Smoking is banned in public, but a town or borough can opt out of the statewide ban.

HB 272 (Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage) — Creates the Tangle Lakes State Game Refuge.

HB 273 (Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau) — The Marijuana Control Board can keep operating until 2024.

HB 274 (Kito) — The state’s board of psychologists can keep operating through 2026.

HB 275 (Kito) — The state’s board of massage therapists can keep operating through 2022.

HB 276 (Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage) — Harassment and discrimination cases in the Legislature get referred to the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics, and if the Legislative Affairs Agency investigates a case, it has to provide a final report to the House and Senate leaders.

HB 277 (Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks) — Creates Net Neutrality rules for Alaska.

House Resolutions

HJR 27 (Kito) — Proposes a constitutional amendment setting term limits for legislators.

Senate Bills

SB 135 (Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna) — Proposes a vote among Cook Inlet setnetters to reduce the number of fishermen by 40 percent. If it passes, the state will buy back permits at $260,000 each.

SB 136 (Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River) — Creates a system for restitution payments to be collected by the courts and given to crime victims.

SB 137 (Micciche) — Not introduced.

SB 138 (Micciche) — Lawmakers’ per diem expense payments are reduced if they don’t pass a budget quickly.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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