The bills represent the Legislature’s first push to loosen the rules piecemeal instead of through an omnibus bill backed by Gov. Phil Murphy. (Getty Images)
Assembly lawmakers will discuss a raft of changes to the state’s liquor license laws Wednesday, the Legislature’s first push to loosen the rules piecemeal instead of through an omnibus bill backed by Gov. Phil Murphy.
The proposals up in the Assembly’s oversight committee Wednesday morning, many of which resemble those included in the governor’s plan, would allow small towns to award more liquor licenses, lift food serving restrictions currently placed on breweries, and slap a hefty tax on drinks like White Claw and Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
Murphy has made revamping our Prohibition-era liquor license laws a second-term priority, calling them “antiquated and confusing” in a February speech and saying changes would allow small businesses to compete and boost local economies. Murphy’s push has met with resistance from existing license holders, who fear the devaluation of their licenses if the state allows towns to begin approving more of them.
The governor’s initial proposal was broken up into parts after one top Democrat said it did not have a lot of support among lawmakers, though none of the proposals up for consideration Wednesday were sponsored by Sen. Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), who introduced the Murphy-backed bill.
One bill up for consideration Wednesday, which is posted for discussion only, would allow municipal governing bodies to change license population thresholds individually by passing an ordinance. Currently, state laws limit towns to one retail consumption liquor license per 3,000 residents.
Once that ordinance is passed, the limit would decrease annually, reaching a minimum of one license per 2,000 residents after five years. Murphy proposed a similar but slightly faster phasedown, though the governor’s proposal would have eventually eliminated limits altogether.
Another measure expected to be heard Wednesday would allow municipalities to auction off certain inactive licenses to other towns or cities for use in redevelopment areas. The legislation would allow municipalities to exceed the number of retail licenses afforded to them based on their population.
Other bills would create a new type of license that would lift food and event restrictions imposed on breweries, allowing them to coordinate with restaurants and other vendors to sell food and allow them to sell products produced by other brewers, vintners, or distillers.
The bill package would also create a new tax regime for wine coolers, hard lemonade, and similar products. Such beverages would be taxed at $4.40 per gallon, nearly 37 times the rate charged on beer and five times that charged on wine.
The legislation points to the reliance such beverages have on spirits during production. The revenue would be split evenly between the state’s general fund and New Jersey’s alcohol education, rehabilitation, and enforcement fund.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.