Oregon Partnership Calls for Tougher Liquor Regulations

No one wants another tragedy similar to what happened to Jessica Blanck and Krissy Shaddix.

The two 21-year-olds were killed in 2007 by a drunk driver who had been served at a Gresham bar with a reputation for serving inebriated patrons.

This incident and others like it could have been prevented. With the help of legislative and community leadership and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the time is now to impose stronger measures to prevent more deaths on our streets and highways.

The rules in our state on serving intoxicated patrons are unworkable, inefficient and nearly impossible to enforce. And the explosion of new liquor licenses in the past several years is wrought with danger.

In Oregon, a server can’t be cited unless he or she “knowingly” allows a visibly intoxicated person to consume more alcohol. This means that the OLCC must prove that a server actually observed the person, knew he was drunk and served him anyway. Legally proving that is often impossible.

No bar should be serving multishot drinks that equal more than a double. Requiring bars to serve in standard drink sizes or equivalents would help prevent over-pouring. And yes, there should be stricter limits on the number of drinks served per customer.

Ten years ago, Oregon put a lid on the number of liquor licenses issued by the OLCC. But no more. And for the past 10 years, the number of licenses has grown by between 400 and 500 annually. That’s not keeping up with population growth. That’s speeding past it.

The OLCC’s legislatively approved budget currently provides for only 42 inspectors for some 12,000 licensees. That’s one inspector for every 285 establishments and a recipe for massive noncompliance. And that doesn’t count the hundreds of special events and festivals that inspectors must also deal with on a weekly basis. More OLCC inspectors are needed now.

Applicants with horrendous records of compliance and safety seem to be securing licenses almost at will. Our state should impose tougher standards for any business with the crucial responsibility of serving alcohol and, like other states, set the licensing fee to reflect the serious responsibility that comes with securing a license.

It’s also time to consider allowing cities and counties to pass their own ordinances to control the number of licensees and to place reasonable restrictions on hours of alcohol service.

The current laws do not adequately protect the safety of Oregonians, nor do they protect businesses. While most liquor licensees are responsible, they must compete with those who aren’t. When there is no effective law against serving unlimited amounts of alcohol to patrons, responsible licensees may lose customers to another bar that allows them to drink as much as they want. All too many times, those drinks are cheap — courting disaster on the road.

Having a liquor license should be a privilege that comes with restrictions that are regularly enforced and a responsibility not to over-serve.

Alcohol is a product that should be served with great care. As we have learned again and again, our lives depend on it.

Judy Cushing is president and CEO of Oregon Partnership.

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