Failure of the Legislature to pass a special session bill to define residency requirements has left the state Alcohol Beverage Control Administration in a gray area, the agency’s general counsel said Thursday.
The ABCA had sought the legislation in July, after the U.S. Supreme Court, in June, overturned a Tennessee law requiring that individuals seeking state retail liquor licenses be residents of the state for at least two years.
In that case, the court ruled the Tennessee law was an undue restriction on interstate commerce, and was designed to give state residents monopoly control of state liquor sales.
“Obviously, when the Supreme Court rules, you want to get into compliance,” ABCA general counsel Anoop Bhasin said of the proposed legislation (House Bill 208) to more broadly define residency in order to comply with the court’s ruling.
“Without the bill passing, we’re in a little bit of a gray area,” he added.
As drafted, the bill would define residency as the place where an individual “maintains a bona fide place of abode” where he or she spends in the aggregate more than 183 days a year of at least eight hours a day.
Current state law requires applicants for liquor licenses to be state residents for at least four years.
“Currently, there’s no definition of residency for our area of the Code. It just says, you must be a resident of the state,” Bhasin said.
The bill would have also required applicants for ABCA licenses to designate a manager for the location, and would require the manager maintain a place of residence within 100 miles of the location.
“We need to know who’s running the bar,” Bhasin said of requiring licensees to designate a resident manager.
The bill would also apply to the state Lottery Commission, and the yet-to-be-activated Medical Cannabis Act, striking residency requirements for Limited Video Lottery licenses, and for medical marijuana dispensary licenses.
It was introduced in the House of Delegates on July 22 and taken up by the Judiciary Committee that afternoon.
However, committee members had a number of questions of counsel on the bill, Bhasin said, particularly over the rationale for the 100-mile residency requirement for managers of ABCA locations.
With the House set to adjourn the special session sine die on July 23, and assurances that none of the three agencies plan to enforce the now-unconstitutional residency requirements for licensing, committee members decided to wait until the 2020 regular session to take up the legislation.
“This is just a response to the Supreme Court case,” Bhasin said. “There’s no litigation in West Virginia pending that I’m aware of.”