New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday signed into law what evolved into a sweeping change of state liquor laws.
HB 255, sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, was originally intended to allow alcohol deliveries and add a new type of liquor dispensing license. But through a series of amendments on the Senate floor, the law now bans miniature liquor bottles, broadens the hours when liquor can be sold and allows for a ban of liquor sales at gas stations and convenience stores in McKinley County.
The bill proved controversial among many liquor license holders early on in the legislative process. Those existing license holders repeatedly argued that adding a new type of liquor license would devalue current licenses. For decades, New Mexico limited the number of liquor dispensing licenses which resulted in licenses being sold for upwards of half a million dollars. Many restaurant and bar owners said they used their licenses as collateral for loans.
But instead of issuing more dispensing licenses, the new law actually creates a new class of liquor licenses for restaurants that requires a certain amount of food to be sold and those who obtain the new class of license cannot sell any more than three drinks, containing one and a half ounces of hard alcohol.
Lujan Grisham, in a statement on Wednesday said the passage of the bill was the result of “productive and creating problem-solving” by lawmakers.
“Like any bipartisan compromise, at the end of the day, most if not all will feel both that they got some of what they wanted and had to give some of what they didn’t,” Lujan Grisham said.
During committee hearings many current license holders implied that the state could face lawsuits calling for state reimbursement to make up for a devalued license.
After extensive changes through a series of amendments, the New Mexico Senate on Tuesday approved a bill aimed at allowing alcohol delivery and making other significant changes to the state’s liquor laws by a 29-11 vote.
Shortly after the Senate passed HB 255, the House voted to concur with the changes made in the Senate, which means the bill now heads to the governor’s desk.
Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, presented the bill on behalf of the House sponsor, Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque.
Throughout the hours-long debate and amendment process, Ivey-Soto said the bill was one way for New Mexico to change its “relationship with alcohol.”
“This has been a long time coming,” Ivey-Soto said just before the vote. “It’s been 40 years coming for us to have this discussion. It’s been 40 years coming for people to be able to say, ‘You know, here’s something that’s affected my constituents. Here’s something that I’ve wanted to do something about. Here’s something where we can make a change.”
Besides allowing for alcohol deliveries, the original intention of the bill was to fix a decades-old system that inadvertently put an inflated monetary value on licenses to sell liquor by the drink.
The New Mexico House of Representatives on Tuesday managed to come to a bipartisan agreement in how to fix a decades-long problem with the state’s liquor laws and approve some liquor delivery.
The House approved HB 255, which would add a new class of liquor licenses, by 41-27. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, gained support from some Republicans after House Minority Leader James Townsend of Artesia offered an amendment to permanently waive fees for some current license holders and any family that inherits the license.
For decades, there have been a finite number of liquor dispensing licenses in the state, which inadvertently created a high-priced market for them. Instead of issuing more dispensing licenses, or the permission to sell liquor by the drink, HB 255 proposes a new type of license that would allow restaurants to have a full bar under certain conditions. The state already issues beer and wine licenses for restaurants as long as the restaurant sells a certain percentage of food.
For years, the concern from current liquor license holders has been that the value of those licenses would decrease if more licenses were issued. During previous public testimony, many current license holders said they purchased their licenses for hundreds of thousands of dollars from the previous license holder.
Members of a House committee on Friday tabled two bills that would change the way liquor licenses are distributed in New Mexico after several license holders spoke in opposition, arguing the measures would render their licenses, some worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, nearly worthless. One of the measures — House Bill 8 — would allow restaurants to deliver beer and wine with food orders. The House Commerce and Economic Development Committee’s decision to delay the bills might have had little to do with the concerns of the liquor license holders. Several similar bills are making their way through the Legislature, and it’s not uncommon to see lawmakers delay action on a measure as they work to draft a single piece of legislation they believe has the best chance of gaining approval and getting to the governor’s desk for a signature. “They’re not gone,” said Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, who is chairman of the committee.
A bill that would allow local districts to vote on whether to allow beer and wine home delivery passed the Senate on Monday afternoon. The vote was 32-10 in favor of passing the legislation, with both bipartisan support and opposition. The legislation would allow adults over the legal drinking age, 21, to order up to two six-packs of beer and two bottles of wine for delivery as long as it comes with at least $20 in food. The restaurant that delivers the alcohol must get at least 70 percent of its gross receipts from the sale of meals to qualify for a beer or wine license. The delivereis would have to stop when the the restaurant stops selling food or at 10:00 p.m., whichever happens first.