Ariz. Senate passes watered-down alcohol bill

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, March 1, 2012

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A bill that area lawmakers had hoped would greatly improve the treatment of Native American alcoholics was approved Tuesday by the Arizona Senate and has gone to the House of Representatives.

But the bill is not the same one that Sen. Jack Jackson Jr., D-Window Rock, had hoped the Senate would pass.

"It's been watered down considerably," Jackson said.

Senate Bill 1082 amends state laws dealing with the evaluation and treatment of persons incapacitated by alcohol or substance abuse.

In its original form - the version that Jackson and other lawmakers from this area supported - the bill would have given local governments more authority to pass ordinances to address alcohol problems in their area.

As Jackson said, it would have allowed "municipalities to control how they want to sell alcohol."

"If they don't like walk-up windows, they could prohibit those. If they don't like 40-ounce containers, they can outlaw those," he said.

"What we wanted to do is have something like they have in New Mexico," he said.

Mainly thanks to efforts by Gallup officials over the years, New Mexico lawmakers have enacted a series of laws that allow Gallup and other home-rule cities to regulate liquor sales inside their boundaries.

Gallup, for instance, banned drive-up windows at liquor stores because they make it harder for the seller to determine if a buyer is sober enough to serve.

Gallup also banned the sale of fortified wine and 40-ounce bottles of beer, both of which contributed to the problem of people becoming intoxicated before they could get home after a trip to the liquor store.

The city also persuaded New Mexico to authorize cities to impose a 5 percent tax on alcohol sales to help pay for programs to prevent and treat alcoholism.

Jackson said he had hoped for a similar law in Arizona but lawmakers balked at the notion of a new tax, even though the only ones who would be affected would be those who purchase alcoholic beverages.

The tax and local rule provisions met stiff resistance both in committee and on the Senate floor, mainly from the state's liquor industry, which fought against having rules that would change from one jurisdiction to another, Jackson said.

Instead the liquor lobbyists convinced Arizona lawmakers that it would be better to have one set of rules for the whole state.

The law that was passed gives local law enforcement officials the right to transport intoxicated persons to the nearest approved treatment center, and allows treatment centers to hold an intoxicated person for up to 48 hours instead of the 24 hours that the law currently allows.

Jackson said SB 1082 now goes to the House where Rep. Albert Hale, D-Window Rock, and others may have an opportunity to restore some of what's been lost in the Senate version.

If that happens, some of the provisions important to the Navajo Nation might make it into the final version to be signed by the governor, he said.

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