The town’s new liquor laws will drastically reduce penalties for selling alcohol to minors, but they’ll also require all alcohol servers to take classes that will, hypothetically, prevent underage sales in the first place.
While working through revisions to Jackson’s liquor regulations Monday, the Town Council agreed on two main points: the current punishments are too harsh, and the focus should instead be on fostering a sense of responsibility among bars, restaurants and retailers throughout the community.
“We’re never going to catch all the violations, we know that,” Mayor Pete Muldoon said. “What we’re really trying to do is make sure the culture is changed, so the offenses aren’t happening when we’re not looking.”
As of now, employees who serve alcohol in Jackson don’t have to be certified through the Training for Intervention Procedures program, or TIPS, except after a violation (Teton County recently mandated the training for all servers).
Muldoon, a former TIPS instructor, has argued that mandatory training will ensure everyone serving alcohol understands the best practices — not only to prevent underage sales, but also to prevent over serving.
“I think these are important things for people to know, so we stay out of this kind of trouble,” he said.
The liquor code revisions aren’t final yet. Based on Monday’s discussion, town staff will create an ordinance for the council to approve in the coming months.
Under the proposed revisions, the town will likely require training not only for servers who have sold to a minor but also for their supervisors. On the second offense, the license holder will also have to attend training, the idea being that the leaders in any organization will be better able to spur change among their employees.
Besides requiring more training, the town will also reduce the length of license suspensions required after multiple compliance check failures.
The severity of the existing suspension policies became apparent first in February 2018, when Pizzeria Caldera failed three compliance checks within 12 months, and again when The Virginian did the same thing earlier this year.
In both cases, current law calls for a 120-day suspension of each establishment’s liquor license. However, the council was reluctant to impose the suspensions, not wanting to deprive the businesses of four months of revenue from alcohol sales.
The town now seems set on a far more lenient 10-day suspension, and 30 days after five violations in 24 months. Councilor Jim Stanford, however, argued that could be too far in the other direction.
“It seems to me that 10 days might be too short,” he said. “There’s not much of an incentive there, it’s kind of like a slap on the wrist.”
But the others agreed with Councilor Hailey Morton Levinson noting that even 10 or 30 days “would really hurt” and put employees out of work. Ideally, if the new approach succeeds, suspensions will become more rare anyway.
“What we’re really trying to do here is make sure no one gets to two [violations],” Muldoon said. “If we start seeing this come back and we’re getting lots of people with five failures … it means we’ve failed at everything else we’ve tried to do.”
Town Clerk Sandy Birdyshaw said she emailed all liquor licensees in Jackson, seeking input on the new regulations, and received only one response, from the Teton County Liquor Association, a group of license holders. The association offered a long list of recommendations, including a request that TIPS training be offered predictably and more frequently, at least during the first months of the busy summer and winter seasons.
The association wrote that it will also begin performing compliance checks on its members, saying this would help businesses educate and self-regulate each other.