Liquor stores in Washington could accept credit cards, stay open longer and advertise their prices in store windows under a bill that will come before the D.C. Council next week.
The measure, a revision of the city's alcoholic beverage control law, also would allow businesses accused of violating ABC rules to pay fines rather than have their licenses suspended. It would create a new one-day license for liquor sales, and would allow hotels to sell beer, wine and liquor "miniatures" to registered guests in their rooms at any time of the day.
The council put the ABC bill, a scaled-down version of a 1980 measure that drew intense opposition, on its agenda for Tuesday. In that same session, the council also is scheduled to take up a separate measure revising the city's drunken driving laws.
Council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8), chairman of the public service and consumer affairs committee that approved the ABC bill, said credit card sales and longer operating hours would help Washington's liquor stores compete with other jurisdictions that already allow credit card purchases.
Under the bill initially proposed by Mayor Marion Barry, the city's 235 liquor stores hours could open an hour earlier Monday through Thursday, operating from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. On Fridays, stores would be allowed an extra two hours, opening at 9 a.m. and closing at 10 p.m.
On Saturdays, liquor stores could open one hour earlier, at 9 a.m., and remain open until midnight, the same as current rules. The stores still would be required to close on Sundays.
Stores that sell only beer and wine are not affected by the bill. Those stores may open at 8 a.m. and stay open until midnight seven days a week.
Liquor stores in Prince George's County are open from 6 a.m. until 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday. In Montgomery County they operate from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Liquor stores are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in most Northern Virginia jurisdictions, except designated stores that remain open until 9 p.m.
Wilbert Rozanksy, head of the D.C. Retail Liquor Dealers Association, told Rolark's committee that his group supports most of the changes in the bill, according to a committee report, including the extended hours opposed by the association in the past.
The retail dealers objected to provisions in the bill that would transfer the Council's authority to amend the city's ABC rules to the three-member ABC board. According to the committee report, Rozansky told the committee that the ABC staff was "heavily burdened and should not be charged with rule-making responsibilities."
Rozansky also objected to the change allowing liquor store windows to show prices, arguing that information is "already easily available." The bill also includes a requirement that shelf prices be listed in larger type.
The group said it opposed a new rule requiring retailers to buy beer from "the primary American source of supply," a provison ABC officials said was included to protect wholesalers who have rights to imported products from being undercut by other dealers who may buy the beer elsewhere at a cheaper price.
Dallas Evans, executive director of the ABC board, said the new one-day license for selling liquor would be similar to a beer and wine license now available. It is intended for charities and private groups that want to sell liquor at one-time events, and probably would cost about $100, Evans said.
The drunken driving bill, which has been discussed at length in committee, would lower the legal standard for intoxication, making it easier for a driver to be found intoxicated.
It also would lower fines for drunken driving offenses, on the theory that lower fines are more likely to actually be imposed.