OLCC privatization nixed

As of May 15 the Oregon Legislature is no longer considering the privatization of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), which would have allowed for off-premises distilled liquor licenses.

Currently, only OLCC-licensed stores can sell distilled liquor such as vodka, tequila and rum. These stores are run by OLCC-appointed agents who are responsible for the daily operations. However, the stores’ inventory is owned by the state.

Earlier this year the Legislature introduced House Bill 3130, which in its initial form would eliminate the role of the OLCC in “importing, warehousing and retailing of distilled liquors” and would also create an “off-premises distilled liquor license.”

This would allow liquor retailers to own their inventory and buy liquor directly from the manufacturer. Also, it would mean grocery stores might be able to sell hard liquor, in addition to wine and malt beverages.

These changes were essentially thrown out, recently, when the Rules and Public Affairs Committee of the Legislature met May 15 and amended HB 3130.

According to Ken Palke, an OLCC spokesperson, the idea of privatization has been “gut and stuffed.” The bill no longer includes any changes to the OLCC.

HB 3130 now “addresses how malt beverages are defined,” committee administrator Cara Filsinger said. “There has been some concern that the feds might change that definition.”

The possible change to the federal definition of “malt beverages” could mean that grocery stores could no longer sell alcoholic beverages containing more than one-half of 1 percent of distilled liquor, such as hard lemonade or Smirnoff Ice.

The amendment to HB 3130 now guarantees that these types of malt beverages may continue “being sold by off-premises sales licensees as a malt beverage … until December 31, 2004.”

Community members are divided over their feelings towards the OLCC and the idea of privatization.

Palke said the OLCC is against privatization, claiming that they provide the state with over $105 million dollars each year.

PSU student Shariyar Smith, however, is vehemently opposed to the OLCC and thinks that the privatization of the commission is “excellent.”

“The OLCC is not just controlling liquor,” Smith said. “It’s like Al Capone is running a state organization.”

Smith also said he feels the OLCC does not save Oregonians money, despite the revenue it brings in for the state.

“They own the only businesses and control the entire market and have the power to make and enforce laws,” Smith said. “They’re jack-boot thugs!”

Greg Millar, the assistant manager at Tenth Avenue Liquor Store, said he is “not sure” that he likes the idea of privatization.

“It would put it in the hands of the big distributors and take it away from us little guys,” Millar said. “We think that something should be done, but not necessarily privatization.”

Millar said the OLCC-licensed distributors, such as Tenth Avenue Liquor Store, would like to make some of the profit that the OLCC makes.

“My boss has to subsidize my pay by selling cigarettes,” he said.

HB 3130 is currently still in the Rules and Public Affairs Committee, which met yesterday afternoon. The events of yesterday’s meeting were not available by press time.