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Liquor law changes head to Senate floor

In this file photo from May, Gabriel Romero, general manager of The Quarters liquor store on Yale in Albuquerque, stocks shelves. New Mexico legislators are considering a new law that would allow package liquor stores to deliver drinks to customers. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The biggest potential changes to New Mexico’s liquor laws in decades are headed to the full Senate for consideration after clearing a critical committee Wednesday – just barely.

The legislation, House Bill 255, would allow restaurants to deliver alcoholic drinks in some circumstances and create a new license intended to make it easier for restaurants to sell liquor, in addition to beer and wine.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday revised the bill with a series of amendments and voted 5-4 to send the bill to the Senate floor, where it could be heard later this week.

Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestas and Dayan Hochman-Vigil – both Albuquerque Democrats and co-sponsors of the measure – said the bill is intended to help restaurants rebound from the damage inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic and public health restrictions.

“We want our restaurants to flourish and want entrepreneurs to develop our restaurant industry,” Maestas said during the hearing.

Some holders of liquor licenses have opposed the bill, arguing it would devalue their investments by increasing the number of restaurants that sell liquor, among other changes.

The House approved the bill 41-27 last month with bipartisan support. But the revised measure will have to go back to the House again if it passes the Senate.

Both chambers have to approve an identical version of the bill by the end of the session March 20 to send it to governor.

“We’re trying to spur economic development in every way we can,” Hochman-Vigil said Wednesday as she urged the senators to support the bill.

The legislation would:

⋄ Allow restaurants to deliver alcoholic drinks with food. Retailers could also apply for permits to deliver alcohol. An earlier version of the bill would have limited retail delivery to smaller stores, but the committee on Wednesday removed the size restriction, a move that would allow big-box stores to deliver, too.

⋄ Establish a new license intended to make it easier for restaurants to sell liquor, not just beer and wine.

⋄ Impose a 2% tax on retailers selling alcoholic drinks to help raise revenue to offset other changes to the liquor tax structure. But the 2% tax would sunset in four years, a change added by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

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