Bill lifting New Jersey brewery restrictions gets conditional veto from Gov. Murphy

Murphy wants broader changes to liquor license laws included in the measure

By: - November 27, 2023 3:37 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy said the bill as written "does not sufficiently enhance our antiquated liquor license laws," which he said need to be retooled for the modern era. (Getty Images)

Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed a bipartisan bill Monday that would have lifted a series of food and event restrictions on breweries and other craft alcohol manufacturers, averting a procedural deadline that would have made the bill law without his signature.

The governor in a statement applauded legislators for seeking to loosen rules the manufacturers say have inhibited growth in their sector, but the governor said the state’s liquor license laws require broader changes and he wants some of those changes approved as part of the breweries bill before he’ll sign it.

“I believe that this legislation, standing alone, does not sufficiently enhance our antiquated liquor license laws,” Murphy said. “For the last year, I have called for a more modern approach to these Prohibition-era laws to reflect the current economy and to better support present and future business owners.”

The bill Murphy vetoed, which reached his desk after winning unanimous support in both chambers of the Legislature, would have lifted rules imposed by the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control that mostly bar breweries from serving food and limit them to 25 events per year, among other things.

The measure was part of a larger liquor license law package that is high on Murphy’s list of priorities and includes a separate bill that would loosen and eventually eliminate New Jersey’s limit of one retail liquor license per 3,000 residents.

But while the brewery bill gained support from New Jersey lawmakers, the governor’s other proposals met with resistance from existing liquor license holders who fear that expanded supply would devalue licenses they had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars — and sometimes more than $1 million — to secure.

Provisions added to the breweries bill by Murphy’s conditional veto would bar the renewal of some expired retail liquor licenses — the type of license used by bars, restaurants, and some liquor stores.

Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth), the bill’s prime sponsor in the upper chamber, told reporters Monday the bill as passed by the Legislature was “a good bill” and believes the changes sought by Murphy to liquor licenses laws should not have been tied to it.

“I’m disappointed the governor vetoed the bill,” Gopal said.

Opponents of expanded liquor license limits have urged lawmakers to turn to pocket licenses — active liquor licenses that go unused because they are not tied to any establishment — before raising the number of liquor licenses municipal officials could issue.

Murphy has said loosening license caps would bring jobs, economic activity, and additional tax revenue to the state.

“A new comprehensive liquor law structure will create up to $1 billion in new State and local revenues,” he said in the veto statement. “This is not just a win for businesses’ bottom-lines, but also a win for all New Jersey towns and residents.”

The governor’s proposed revision to the breweries bill would allow municipal governing bodies to deny liquor license renewal applications for licenses that have not been tied to an establishment in the two years preceding the application, if they find the license holder did not attempt to use it.

It would also create a new class of special permits to allow alcohol sales at shopping mall food courts. Like other liquor licenses, local officials would need to approve them.

To qualify for a single special permit, a shopping mall’s square footage must meet or exceed 500,000 square feet, and a mall would become eligible for an additional special permit for each additional 150,000 square feet.

The bill as revised by Murphy would allow municipalities to auction off licenses that had not been renewed in the past eight years and would bar renewals of licenses whose holders failed to request a license be renewed in the year following its expiration, with some exceptions.

The governor signaled his efforts to revamp the state’s liquor license laws will continue.

“I believe that these revisions have the support of my partners in the Legislature at this time and I am hopeful that the changes will be adopted,” he said. “While these changes are an important step forward in liquor license reform, I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in the Legislature to pass even broader and more comprehensive reform.”

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz contributed.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.

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