When Portland's Office of Neighborhood Involvement complains to state liquor regulators about bars where fights, drunken patrons, and noise disrupt surrounding streets, it can take as long as a year of investigations and hearings before anything gets done.
State Rep. Tina Kotek and Sen. Jackie Dingfelder (both D-Portland) want that to change. Their measure, Senate Bill 1026, would let the Oregon Liquor Control Commission intervene earlier and begin placing alcohol-dispensing restrictions on those establishments before problems escalate.
The measure, which is scheduled for a Senate Commerce Committee hearing today, Feb. 10, would grant authority to the OLCC to intervene early by issuing warnings and restricting the sale of alcohol at venues that it determines have persistent alcohol-related problems.
"Even though one principal task of the OLCC is to make sure that enough alcohol gets sold so we have enough money for the state," Kotek says, "some people feel like that responsibility has superseded the right to a safe community."
Theresa Marchetti, the city Office of Neighborhood Involvement's liquor licensing specialist, supports the bill to deal with what she calls a minority of roughly 100 problem establishments in Portland. "Without the ability to bring them to the table," Marchetti says, "things can spin out of control very quickly. Persistent problems become serious. And that's what we've seen over and over again."
The OLCC says a complaint about a licenseholder now takes up to a year before a full investigation can conclude in a revocation. With the new early-intervention bill in place, the five-step process would remain, but the OLCC could slap on restrictions such as limiting how many drinks a patron can buy or requiring security.
Naturally, the state's 6,600-plus establishments licensed to sell liquor for consumption on site see it differently.
Oregon Restaurant Association spokesman Bill Perry says the OLCC already has about 70 different things it can do to restrict a license.
SB 1026 would give the OLCC too much power to begin shutting down establishments simply because of an unsubstantiated complaint, Perry says.
"If you give somebody an ability to start complaining about establishments, and you can close them down earlier because of those complaints," he says, "they will start using that to close them down."
The OLCC claims no specific bars are being targeted by the measure, which died in committee at the end of session in 2009, but has been resurrected for this month's abbreviated legislative session.