February 5, 2009
By: Meghan Reilly, Legislative Analyst
You asked for information about “damp” towns in Connecticut, the current state of local option in the Liquor Control Act, and the impact that Proposed Bill 313 would have on local option.
Not defined in state statute, “damp” towns are municipalities allowing issuance of certain permits for sale of alcoholic liquor.
State law allows towns to vote on (1) whether the sale of alcoholic liquor will be permitted in the town, or (2) whether the sale of alcoholic liquor will be permitted in any number of the classes of permits (CGS § 30-10).
Proposed Bill 313 changes a reference on available permits from CGS § 30-15 to Chapter 545, encompassing the entire Liquor Control Act. It also appears to create a fourth required ballot label designation that would specifically consider the issuance of package and grocery store permits. This is already a possible question under the present ballot label designations, but presently must be presented in conjunction with two other questions. It may be that the purpose of the legislation is to allow municipalities to place only one question relating to only certain permits on a ballot, but in its present form it does not appear to do that.
DRY TOWNS AND “DAMP” TOWNS
Dry towns are municipalities wherein the local government forbids the sale of any alcoholic liquor. The last dry town in Connecticut, Eastford, approved liquor sales in 2006 (http://www.thehour.com/story/73075).
“Damp” towns, though not defined in state statute, are municipalities that allow some liquor to be sold within city limits. The Town of Wilton is an example of a damp town; in 1992, residents repealed the town's prohibition laws to allow restaurants to obtain permits to serve alcohol in the town, but did not extend that right to grocery stores or package stores (http://www.thehour.com/story/73075).
The Connecticut Liquor Control Act of 1933, CGS § 30-1 et seq., regulates the sale of liquor in this state. It allows individual towns to vote to determine (1) whether the sale of alcoholic liquor will be permitted in the town, or (2) whether the sale of alcoholic liquor will be permitted in any number of the classes of permits set forth in CGS § 30-15 (CGS § 30-10).
To accomplish this, at least 10% of a town's electors must sign a petition calling for a vote, and submit it to the town clerk at least 60 days before the date of any regular town election. A vote to ban the sale of alcohol, either completely or by a particular type of liquor permit, takes effect on the first Monday of the month following the election. The ban lasts until a new vote is taken, so long as at least one year has elapsed between votes (CGS §§ 30-9 and 30-10).
State law requires that the ballot label designation in such a vote must include:
1. “Shall the sale of alcoholic liquor (Permit for All Alcoholic Liquor) be allowed in … (Name of town)?”,
2. “Shall the sale of alcoholic liquor (Specified Permit or Permits) be allowed in … (Name of town)?”, or
3. “Shall the sale of alcoholic liquor be prohibited (No Permits) in … (Name of town)?” (CGS § 30-11).
Electors may only vote for one designation. No permit may be issued for “all alcoholic liquor” unless the majority of votes are for “all alcoholic liquor.” If there is no majority, the “all alcoholic liquor” votes are added to and counted with the votes for “specified permit” (CGS § 30-11).
The Department of Consumer Protection, which regulates the sale of liquor, cannot issue permits for the retail sale of liquor (1) in towns that have voted themselves dry, or (2) where prohibited by a municipal zoning ordinance (CGS § 30-44).
PROPOSED BILL 313
Presently, CGS § 30-10 allows voters to consider whether the sale of alcoholic liquor will be permitted in any number of “the classes of permits set forth in CGS § 30-15.” CGS § 30-15 does not include a list of permits, but instead authorizes the Department of Consumer Protection to issue permits in the classes described in the chapter. Proposed Bill 313 changes the reference from CGS § 30-15 to Chapter 545, which would encompass the entire Liquor Control Act.
Proposed Bill 313 also amends the ballot label designations set by CGS § 30-11 to include a fourth question, “Shall the retail sale of alcohol under section 30-20 of the general statutes be allowed in (name of town)?” CGS § 30-20 governs package store permits and grocery store permits. Presently, the second ballot question, “Shall the sale of alcoholic liquor (Specified Permit or Permits) be allowed in … (Name of town)?”, already allows for that designation, but must be asked in conjunction with the other two questions. It may be that the purpose of this legislation is to allow towns to establish a separate process limited to the one question, but it does not appear to do that.