By RONNIE ELLIS
Kentucky and South Carolina are the only two states that continue to ban totally the sales of alcohol during the hours polls are open on Election Day.
Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, wants to change that. Simpson has proposed legislation that would allow retail alcohol stores, taverns and restaurants to sell and serve alcohol, even during the hours polls are open. Simpson says the law is outdated and adversely affects business sales, employment and costs the state tax revenues.
“Kentucky loses $625,000 in tax revenues every election year,” Simpson told the Interim Committee on Licensing and Occupations Friday. He said he recognizes that’s a relatively small amount when considered part of a $9 billion General Fund budget, “but in hard times, I think this money could be applied in a litany of ways.”
His research indicates the ban was a prohibition-era move and also a response in a time when some polling places were located at taverns to “the mischief which sometimes occurred” at those polling places. But that’s no longer the case, Simpson said.
Alcohol sales, in jurisdictions that allow them, are already legal in Kentucky during special elections. Simpson’s proposal also wouldn’t alter existing prohibitions on sales of alcohol in “dry” jurisdictions. Finally, he said it will offer a local option even if his legislation passes, which would allow individual jurisdictions to ban sales during the hours of polling if they chose.
Supporting Simpson’s proposal were Doug Gallenstein whose family owns six retail alcohol stores and Stacy Roof, president of the Kentucky Restaurant Association. Gallenstein said he loses $255 per store each election day while he sends about 18 employees home from work during the shift during polling hours.
Roof said a survey of her association’s members indicate restaurant sales fall between 23 percent and 43 percent on the Tuesday primary date each year, compared to the other three Tuesdays’ sales in May.
“And it affects payroll and other tax revenues as well,” Roof said.
Committee Chairman Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, was receptive to the proposal.
“I think this is something whose time has come and I am 100 percent supportive,” said Schickel. “This regulation just doesn’t make good, common sense and it’s time to do away it.”
Schickel, a former law enforcement official, said during his time as a law officer he worked three cases of alcohol sales on Election Day.
“And all three of them were in dry areas,” he said.
The committee also heard from Dr. Preston Nunnelley, a Lexington physician who chairs the Kentucky Medical Licensure Board. The board has been under fire from some lawmakers who want it to engage in stricter monitoring of prescribers of prescription painkillers.
The General Assembly, in a 2013 special session, passed a bill to crack down on “pill mills,” establishments that operate mostly on a cash basis and a high volume of pain prescriptions. The law would require pain clinics to be owned by physicians and require prescribers and dispensers of pain medications to participate in the state’s electronic tracking system.
Nunnelley and the KMLB weren’t at Friday’s meeting specifically to address those changes, but Nunnelley’s testimony indicated the board has become “more pro-active” in investigating complaints of over prescribing.
The new law is set to go into effect on July 20.