The penalty for liquor license holders who repeatedly sell alcohol to minors will soon be reduced from four months to just 10 days as officials emphasize improved training over discipline.

The change is part of an overhaul to the town’s liquor codes, which elected officials undertook after two high-profile liquor license suspensions prompted them to rethink their punishments. Town councilors worried the current forfeiture for failing three compliance checks in a year — 120 days of no revenue and possibly no jobs for workers — was too severe.

When the council made its first of three readings of the new law, on Monday, the unanswered question was whether the 10-day suspension should be mandatory, like the old suspension, or whether it should be left to the council’s discretion.

Councilor Jim Stanford argued for a rigid penalty. “Injecting wiggle room” into the decision, he said, would only invite offenders — and their friends and attorneys — to blame their violations on extenuating circumstances to try to persuade the council to absolve them.

“We will subject ourselves to an enormous amount of pressure,” Stanford said. “You get 30 emails from every friend of the liquor license owner; you get your arm twisted when you walk to the post office.”

He called for the same inflexibility that tormented the councilors in recent years when they were forced to impose a four-month suspension on the Virginian and Pizzeria Caldera. But with the new suspension length being “dramatically less,” Stanford wanted the law to be uncompromising.

Mayor Pete Muldoon, the sole vote against the liquor code update, said the council should give itself leeway to decide against suspension, in case a liquor license holder presents a truly convincing case for why they shouldn’t be held responsible even after selling alcohol to underage people three times in a year.

He didn’t offer any examples, but Town Attorney Lea Colasuonno agreed it was possible.

“We can’t think of every circumstance,” she said. “Somebody might have a good argument. ... I can’t think of them right now, but that’s the uniqueness of every situation.”

Ultimately, the councilors voted to set in stone the 10-day suspension for three failed compliance checks, but to leave other violations to the discretion of elected officials.

For example, they could suspend a license if the holder makes false statements on a license application or fails to report excessive drinking and disorderly conduct, but they don’t have to.

As the punishments for selling to minors become lighter, the town will also require increased training for employees who serve alcohol. As of now, they aren’t required to be certified through the Training for Intervention Procedures program, or TIPS, except after a violation. The new laws will likely require them to take a TIPS course within 45 days of hire.

The council still needs to approve the new codes two more times, leaving room for further changes.

Contact Cody Cottier at 732-5911 or town@jhnewsandguide.com.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

(2) comments

Konrad Lau

Of course, this "easing" of liquor sales regulations is all about...wait for it...any time now...its "for the children".

It would seem to me that if a business is getting fined at an appropriate level ad privileges are suspended long enough, the business would institute appropriate training to avoid those issues.

Here we have folks assuming making penalties softer will lessen violations.

Who is kidding whom? Sounds a lot like New York's no bail program doesn't it? Look how that little experiment in idiocy is working.

Tim Rieser

It pains me to agree with Stanford because of his dislikability factor, but I think he is dead-right on this. The fact the town attorney says there might be extenuating circumstances but “can’t think of any” tells you what you need to know. There should be zero tolerance and stiff penalties for serving minors. That’s pretty obvious, it would even.

Welcome to the discussion.

Please note: Online comments may also run in our print publications.
Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Please turn off your CAPS LOCK.
No personal attacks. Discuss issues & opinions rather than denigrating someone with an opposing view.
No political attacks. Refrain from using negative slang when identifying political parties.
Be truthful. Don’t knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be proactive. Use the “Report” link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with us. We’d love to hear eyewitness accounts or history behind an article.
Use your real name: Anonymous commenting is not allowed.