As liquor law changes go into effect on July 1, delivery will have to wait on rulemaking

On July 1, a number of bills signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will go into effect. Among those bills is one that makes significant changes to New Mexico’s liquor laws. But some of those significant changes, like delivery of alcohol, are also dependent on administrative rules and regulations. 

After much of the state was shut down last year, states around the country approved alcohol delivery and the notion that alcohol could be delivered to homes moved up on New Mexico’s legislative priority list. By the time it was approved by the New Mexico Senate, HB 255 not only included alcohol deliveries, but also an attempt at equity among liquor license holders and those who sought one of a finite number of licenses. 

Arguably one of the more notable changes to the state’s liquor laws, alcohol deliveries, still needs more rules and regulations before local businesses can take advantage of them. So, New Mexicans should not expect beer and wine additions to their favorite takeout menus anytime soon. 

New Mexico’s Regulation and Licensing Department is slated to hold a public rulemaking hearing on July 26, where the public can voice their concerns about the proposed rules.

Gov. Lujan Grisham signs liquor law change

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.

Liquor law overhaul headed to Senate floor

A sweeping liquor license reform bill is on its way to the Senate floor after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 to move it forward Wednesday. But the committee approved a number of amendments that changed some aspects of the bill. 

Gone is a provision that would have given a $100,000 tax break to retailers who currently hold liquor licenses. 

But a clause giving longtime liquor license owners who run restaurants and bars a $200,000 tax break — $50,000 per year for four years — remains. Gone, too, is a deal that would have waived all future annual license renewal fees for those longtime liquor license owners. 

But much of House Bill 255, which passed through the House of Representatives earlier in the session, remains intact. The bill still allows for home delivery of alcohol along with food orders. 

The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said the bill is meant to update the decades-old liquor license law that has increased liquor license fees to well over $500,000. It is also meant to encourage new restaurateurs to get into business at an affordable price.

Some liquor sellers leery of booze tax to fund license overhaul

As J.R. Palermo sees it, the year has been bad enough for restaurants, bars and patrons. He’s none too happy with a proposed 2 percent excise tax the state could impose on alcohol sales as part of a sweeping liquor law reform bill. Palermo, the owner of Tiny’s Restaurant & Lounge, a fixture in Santa Fe since 1950, has been an outspoken critic of New Mexico legislators’ efforts to overhaul what many people call an outdated and cost-prohibitive liquor license system. He said House Bill 255 is “not friendly to the industry.” At the top of his many objections to the bill is a plan to allow restaurateurs to purchase new licenses to serve liquor at a fraction of the costs paid by longtime business operators.

Amended liquor license overhaul heads to Senate

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.

Liquor license change, alcohol delivery proposal moves forward

A House bill aimed at allowing some alcohol deliveries as well as adding a new class of liquor licenses for restaurants on Wednesday passed its first committee 6-3. 

HB 255, sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, would, besides allowing certain alcohol deliveries, allow restaurants a chance to sell spirits the same way they currently can under a beer and wine license. 

“The task before us is how do we open up these markets, while not disrupting current investors and folks who relied on that existing statutory scheme,” Maestas said. “That’s our task, and I think we’ve accomplished that in a great and reasonable and conservative way today.”

For decades, New Mexico law has limited the number of package or dispensing licenses in the state, which has inadvertently put a premium on those that are issued. Over the years, the value of those licenses have only increased. During Wednesday’s hearing, as well as previous hearings in the past few weeks, current liquor license holders spoke out against adding more licenses because it would devalue current licenses. Dozens of liquor license holders pleaded with lawmakers on Wednesday to not pass the bill to the next committee. 

Gary Skidmore, owner of Holiday Bowl bowling alley in Albuquerque, said the liquor law change combined with the COVID-19 pandemic would be detrimental to his business. 

“The timing of this bill under our current economic situation for our business is terrible in that we have been closed more months than we have been open,” Skidmore said.

Decades of limited liquor licenses makes them high commodities

Since the early part of the 20th century, the number of liquor licences in New Mexico have largely been finite. As a result, those licenses are now worth roughly half a million dollars. In recent years, state lawmakers have tried various ways to reconfigure the state’s liquor laws that would both make it less costly for potential new liquor license holders while also not devaluing current licenses. 

This year, there are a handful of bills aimed at creating a new type of liquor license for restaurants to add spirits to their menus, instead of adding more liquor licenses to the mix. The general idea is that restaurants would be able to obtain a license to sell mixed drinks as long as a certain percentage of sales is for food, much like a beer and wine license. But even the idea of increasing the number of restaurants that can serve alcohol beyond beer and wine has some current liquor license holders concerned.

New Mexico House committee tables some proposed liquor license changes

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.

Beer and wine delivery bill passes the Senate

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.