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Proposal to end ban on drinking by barowners, employees

March 08, 2001
>>Send To:TOACT
By: Aritz Parra
Links: HB316

State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Brad Pippen likes to have a glass of wine with dinner at his bar and restaurant in Columbia.

What Pippen did not realize was that, according to some, his dining behavior may run afoul of state liquor regulations.

Pippen, part-owner of Addison's, said he often eats and drinks at the Columbia restaurant. State liquor rules ban employees from drinking alcoholic beverages within their establishments.

"When I have dinner here I like to have a glass of wine," said Pippen, pointing out that he typically works 60-70 hours a week. "In this business, there's not time to stop."

But that's where state liquor regulations come into play. If Pippen is considered "on duty" during dinner, a regulation suggests he cannot drink.

"No holder of a license to sell intoxicating liquor ... shall give to, sell or permit to be given to or sold to any on-duty employee of the establishment in any quantity," according to a rule promulgated by the Missouri Division of Liquor Control.

Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, interprets that regulation as meaning that owners like Pippen can never drink alcohol in their own establishment since they could be considered on duty at any time.

Graham has sponsored legislation that would forbid Liquor Control, an arm of the Public Safety Department, from establishing any rules or regulations that prohibit licensees or their employees from drinking at work.

It is more than a hypothetical issue.

The effects of the current requirements were felt in August 2000 at Tonic, a club in downtown Columbia. Its owners received a written warning after liquor control officers found two employees drinking alcohol while counting tips.

"We only had been opened for nearly a week and they came for us," said a Tonic employee who refused to allow the use of his name. "We were breaking the law."

Other workers say they look forward to Graham's proposal.

"I never drink when working but I'd love to," said Justin Garrison, preparing one of the strawberry margaritas for which Columbia's Los Bandidos has become famous.

A part-time bartender at the Mexican restaurant for two years, Garrison said the bill should be passed.

"We expect a lot of support from the House," Graham said.

Even more conservative Republicans have signed on to the idea.

Rep. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, has signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill, which remains to be considered by the House Local Government Committee, saying the rule was "ridiculous, especially in a small rural Missouri."

"Because of some abuses held in some establishments, they made a rule that applies to all the licensees and employees," Griesheimer said.

"They need to withdraw the rule because they were too dictatorial," insisted Griesheimer, who said he hoped the bill would send a message to Liquor Control. "They think they are God. I don't have a problem if they do their job but not if they go beyond their authority."

The bill reflects frustrations with the regulatory agency.

It would require on-duty officers -- except those working undercover -- to present identification upon entering a licensee's establishment.

Supporters said that provision came in response to concerns among hostelry owners that officers were drinking while on duty, even when not working undercover.

"Missouri retailers feel that their rights have been violated. Sometimes the officials drink and they don't pay at the establishments," said Rep. Jon Dole, R-Lake St. Louis. "We also think they should show their identification if they are not working undercover, because if not, that might be an abuse."

"What we are trying to do is to preserve the good name of Liquor Control," Dole said.

Officials at Liquor Control would not take a position on the bill, citing a policy that precludes the division from commenting on pending legislation.

Despite bipartisan support, the bill faces legislative resistance, including from the chairman of the House Criminal Law Committee, Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield.

"A bartender or owner has to look out for many minors, intoxicated or violent costumers who want to purchase alcohol. Allowing them to drink is helping irresponsibility," Hosmer said in an interview.

Kerry Messer, president of Missouri Family Network, one of Missouri's more active conservative, pro-family groups, also criticized the proposal.

"There's no qualification in this bill regarding the amount or the kind of alcohol," Messer said. "If they want to allow a restaurant owner to drink one glass of wine with his best clients, why don't they propose a bill which says that?"