The task of regulating the sale of alcoholic beverages in the District would be removed from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and turned over to a new city agency, under a proposal introduced recently by D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose.
The new Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration would oversee licensing and monitoring of stores, bars and restaurants that sell beer, wine and liquor. The agency's staff would report to the Alcohol Beverage Control Board.
It is the most dramatic change in an omnibus reform bill introduced Tuesday by Ambrose (D-Ward 6), chairman of the council's Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Most of the amendments clarify or simplify existing laws, such as streamlining the number of licensing categories.
Ambrose said in a statement that the proposed changes are in response to the "public dismay" with the department's management of its alcohol beverage control division.
"The laws and regulations were not clear, and the administration of the [ABC] division was dysfunctional," Ambrose said. "The goal of this reform bill is to make the process a lot more transparent and understandable to the lay person and to make the ABC Division more responsive to both the ABC board and to the public."
Roderic L. Woodson, chairman of the ABC board, said he welcomes a chance to review and update the city's laws regulating alcohol. He particularly supports the proposal to separate the task from Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The bill leaves the seven-member ABC board intact.
"The gaps in ABC regulation [have] been the disconnect between the ABC board and the staff that comes when your staff is part of an executive agency," Woodson said. "There are blurred lines of authority. I think you get better regulatory enforcement and regulatory compliance when everyone is together."
Ambrose's bill does not call for a specific number of employees for the new agency. The legislation refers to a director and a community resource officer, who would help residents and businesses with questions or problems concerning the city's liquor laws.
Currently, 28 Regulatory Affairs employees--15 investigators and 13 administrative staff members--are assigned to the ABC division. Twelve of the investigators were recently added to the division at the insistence of Ambrose and other council members who complained about lax enforcement. During the last fiscal year, the ABC investigation budget grew from $326,250 to $822,564.
Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Director Lloyd J. Jordan has not seen the bill and declined to comment, according to a department spokeswoman.
Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) said the bill is "timely and it will make the [ABC] law much better. . . . The laws were so hard for the community and citizens to understand." Having a full-time community resource officer, she added, would help those who complain "that the industry could always get high-powered lawyers, but that it was hard for citizens to get an understanding of the law."
Ambrose has scheduled a public hearing on the bill for Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. in the council chambers at One Judiciary Square.