Rep. Jason Chaffetz: Protect state alcohol control

Published: Friday, April 16 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — Most of America's state attorneys general worry that big wholesalers are waging systematic court battles to overturn state regulation of alcohol sales and go to a "one-size-fits-all" approach nationally that would be easier for stores to administrate.

So Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and three other House members joined to introduce a bill Thursday designed to stop such moves.

"I want to keep things the way they are," Chaffetz said. "I want to preserve states' rights to decide the appropriate regulation of alcohol within their borders."

Chaffetz said the 21st Amendment and related laws gave states the power to regulate the distribution and importation of alcohol. But 39 of the 50 states attorneys general — including Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff — recently wrote Congress saying court cases have been challenging that and winning what they feel are wrong decisions.

The letter noted that one judge ordered the state of Washington to pay Costco $1.5 million in legal fees in one such case and said such awards may have a chilling effect on states' abilities and willingness to defend their alcohol laws in tough financial times. The attorneys general asked for new laws to reinforce states' rights.

Chaffetz said the bill would do that. "Most importantly, the bill preserves the status quo on Utah's unique regulatory regime and reaffirms the presumed validity of Utah's laws," he said.

This story was reported from Salt Lake City.

— Lee Davidson

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