A committee of the D.C. City Council approved legislation yesterday to prohibit lobbying of members of the city's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board while they are considering liquor license cases.
All three members of the ABC Board supported the measure, which was endorsed by the council's Public Services and Consumer Affairs Committee. The action sent the bill to the full council membership for action, probably next month.
In revemping many procedural rules of the ABC Board, which regulates the city's bars and liquor stores, the measure would end a common practice among lawyers for license applicants and residents of neighborhoods who lobby ABC Board members in private.
Board decisions are supposed to be based upon evidence and arguments put on the public record in hearings, according to current law. But that does not prohibit direct contacts -- or lobbying -- outside public view.
By closing the gap, the measure would theoretically put ABC Board members in much the same position as those who serve on the D.C. Public Service Commission and are prohibited from dealing directly with either side during deliberation of utility rate cases.
Enforcement of the measure could prove difficult. As with most laws dealing with city administration, the proposed measure does not provide any specific penalties for violations.
William P. Lightfoot Jr., clerk of the council committee, said however, that any breach of the rule could invite a court decision overturning an ABC case tainted by a violation. In addition, ABC Board members may be removed by the mayor, at whose discretion they serve.
Under the new measure, ABC Board members would be required to put any private communications received on an issue into the public record. Only routine procedural contacts would be exempted.
Dwight S. Cropp, executive secretary of the D.C. government and an ABC Board member, said he often is telephoned by "people who tell me, 'I supported the mayor'" and solicit support for their side in a license dispute.
"Quite frankly, I welcome this provision," board member Larry C. Williams Sr., an attorney, told the committee before it acted yesterday. "It clears the air and gets the monkeys off our back," he said.
Abc Board Chairman Robert Lewis, who also heads the D.C. Department of Licenses, Investigations and Inspections, said the measure "eliminates unfair advantage" by people making independent contacts with board members.