Friday, March 10, 2006

Jaquet says movies and beer can coexist

Public hearing on bill set for Tuesday in Boise

Express Staff Writer

Steve Bynum, manager of the Magic Lantern Cinema in Ketchum, pours a libation Wednesday at the concessions stand. A debate over beer and wine sales at movie theaters prompted a Blaine County legislator to introduce a bill allowing cities to determine whether such sales are allowed. Meanwhile, The Magic Lantern was given a stay by Idaho State Police, which oversees alcohol beverage control, to continue serving alcohol while it considers the matter. Photo by David N. Seelig

Popcorn and a big cola might satisfy some moviegoers' munchies. But what about people who want to slurp something besides soda while taking in a flick?

Idaho law does not allow movie theaters to serve beer or wine in most circumstances, but a Blaine County representative is hoping to change that.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, says her constituents would rather have local control over the decision to serve alcohol, or not.

House bill H777, printed and assigned a number on Tuesday, March 7, proposes an amendment to state law allowing movie theaters to sell beer and wine to patrons over the age of 21 if there's a dedicated auditorium for that purpose.

The bill's language states that cities can pass an ordinance approving beer and wine sales in theaters.

"(Jaquet's bill) puts the onus locally, where it belongs," said Rick Kessler, owner of Magic Lantern Cinema in Ketchum. "What works in Ketchum might not work in Wendell. If the city fathers of Wendell don't want it, they can stop it right there."

The existing law came under scrutiny last year when a movie theater in Hailey applied for a license to serve beer and wine. Alcohol Beverage Control, a division of Idaho State Police, turned down the request.

Attention then turned to other theaters that were serving beer and wine.

Kessler was under threat of having his beer and wine license suspended or revoked, but ISP gave him a stay while involved parties tried to work out a solution.

"It's a question of interpretation," he said.

Kessler said his theater has had a state liquor license for nearly 30 years, has been inspected regularly by ABC, and has never had a problem with illegal drinking.

"It was a very simpatico relationship (with ABC)," he said. "They just wanted to know we weren't serving to minors."

Idaho statute prohibits minors from going to places that serve or sell alcohol.

Exceptions are granted for certain establishments such as restaurants and sports venues, but not for movie theaters.

While restaurants can be monitored for illegal consumption, movie theaters are dark and therefore difficult to inspect for underage drinking, ISP Lt. Robert Clements said last October.

Clements could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. But he said last fall that possible scenarios to work within the law were to require movie-goers to be 21 years of age or older, or to make one theater for adults only.

Alternatively, he said, legislators could amend the law.

Kessler plans to testify in favor of Jaquet's bill at a public hearing March 14 at the Capitol in hopes of bringing that about.

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