House committee votes to hold bill to expand liquor license access in Idaho resort towns

BOISE, Idaho – Restaurant owners in the eastern Idaho resort burg of Driggs and the state’s other tourist towns will have to wait a little longer for any changes in the law to make liquor licenses more available.

The House State Affairs Committee agreed Thursday to hold a bill that would relax booze rules for eateries in more than a dozen tourist destinations across the state.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, told lawmakers that current rules only allow for two liquor licenses to be issued to restaurant owners in Driggs, a town of 1,600 people at the base of Grand Targhee ski resort.

His legislation would allow Driggs — along with other resort communities like Donnelly, Lava Hot Springs and McCall — to issue a special class of liquor licenses, helping restaurant owners and customers alike looking for more than beer and wine with their dinner.

“This is not really about consumption,” said Gibbs, acknowledging he’s not a drinker. “This is about serving liquor of the consumer’s choice. This is more for the people who live in Driggs or the tourists that come there.”

Driggs Mayor Dan Powers said there is also the economic growth question to consider. Within city limits, Power said there are now more than a dozen restaurants catering to skiers in the winter and anglers, golfers and recreationists the rest of the year. Driggs also borders Jackson, Wyo., a tony tourist town just over a mountain pass with far more relaxed liquor laws.

“Restaurant owners tell us they lose business, customers after learning they can’t have a cocktail with their meal,” Powers said.

But issues that have scuttled liquor license reform efforts in the past undermined the latest effort to help tourist towns.

Restaurant owners who paid a significant price for their liquor license and lobbyists for the beverage industry said the bill would flood markets with new liquor licenses and depress the resale value of those permits.

Ultimately, the committee voted to keep the bill in committee, effectively killing its chances this year.