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Trade group wants changes in liquor license overhaul bill

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Proposed legislation that would overhaul New Mexico’s existing liquor laws in an effort to bolster the struggling restaurant industry will be heard by the full House soon.

But some players in the industry, including the New Mexico Restaurant Association, aren’t fully on board.

The bipartisan measure, House Bill 255, would create a system for alcohol delivery, which is currently not allowed in the state, as well as establish a new type of restaurant license that would allow liquor sales without a liquor license.

It also includes several tax deductions that aim to help current liquor license holders recoup costs should the value of their licenses decline.

That’s a change from another measure proposed earlier in the session.

Governor’s Office spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said the administration is working with the latest legislation’s sponsors and supports the bill’s goal.

“The pandemic has underscored the need for modernizing the state’s liquor laws and creating additional economic opportunities for businesses in the hospitality industry across New Mexico,” Sackett wrote in an email.

But the legislation has been sharply criticized by industry leaders and current liquor license holders, many of whom paid top dollar for their licenses. Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said the legislation could help restaurants that don’t currently hold a liquor license, but it may harm current license holders by devaluing their investments.

Current liquor licenses for restaurants can fetch up to $350,000 on the open market.

Wight said that she has been working with the bill’s sponsors to find compromises and that she expects to see more changes when the bill is heard on the House floor and makes its way through the Senate.

Some of the changes Wight would like to see include more restrictions for the new type of restaurant license, an expansion of the current liquor license commonly used by restaurants and changes to the proposed tax deductions for liquor license holders.

“I hope that we can come to a point where we can get a good piece of legislation in this legislative session, because it really will help restaurants to come back from the pandemic,” Wight said.

The bill, which was approved by its final House committee Monday, is sponsored by Democratic Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestas and Javier Martínez and Republican Reps. Rod Montoya and Joshua Hernandez.

Maestas did not respond to a request for comment.

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