by Max Brantley
Simmer down, City Attorney Tom Carpenter says. The draft is essentially meanginless. It is partially impossible under state law.
It appears that some downtown development folks, not happy about early drinking hours by street people (cheap malt liquor in 22-, 24- and quart containers are popular) had inquired about legal ways to limit such activity. Washington, D.C., has apparently put limits on "single-serving" alcohol sales.
From this came some city legal brainstorming and a draft ordinance to prohibit sales of individual containers — none of less than a whopping 70 ounces for malt beverages for example. The draft ordinance also would severely restrict alcohol sales hours, which now start as early as 7, to 10 to 10, or 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Sales can now run roughly 7 to 1 a.m. (midnight Saturday), though few places operate that many hours.
All manner of popular beverage containers would be outlawed under this. Hours would be curtailed. Employees would lose work time. Sales would be lost. Etc. You can imagine the howl the alcohol industry has made over this.
Carpenter says he'd already learned that state law doesn't give cities the ability to regulate volume of alcohol containers. It can adopt shorter retail sales hours, however. Some retailers are fine with this, some not. But it's a knotty issue. Do you apply this only to liquor stores, but allow convenience stores to have longer hours? Are there constituutional issues in restricting Little Rock merchants but not those on the other side of a city boundary line? Mayor Mark Stodola put out an e-mail late last week intended to dampen the furor. The matter is just under study, Carpenter says. Most seem to be disavowing the whole idea for now.
Judging by an e-mail from a liquor retailer, they'll be watching closely.