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State lawmakers consider revisiting complex liquor laws

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State lawmakers are considering rethinking New Mexico’s complex liquor licensing system in hopes that more local alcohol vendors can help revitalize downtowns in smaller cities, like a brewery did for Truth or Consequences.

Members of the Economic and Rural Development Committee agreed to review the licensing system and other ideas to help jumpstart downtowns in dying towns this summer. Any proposed changes could be introduced in the 2019 session, the Albuquerque Journal reported this week.

Lawmakers cited the Truth or Consequences Brewing Co. as an example of what local alcoholic beverages on tap at the brewery can do for a city.

After the brewery’s opening, more businesses began staying open later to benefit from the extra traffic on the city’s Main Street, Rep. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences said. The brewery has also become a venue for live music.

“What it’s done for the downtown area is amazing,” she said.

Truth or Consequences is about 75 miles north of Las Cruces, near Elephant Butte reservoir and Spaceport America. It’s home to a group of hot springs.

The brewery’s success was made possible in part by support from the state.

The brewery received about $125,000 in state funding under the Local Economic Development Act to renovate the building it would be housed in. That makes it one of about a half dozen breweries or distilleries from Silver City to Santa Fe to benefit from the program over the past three years.

Because the brewery makes its own beer on site, it did not need a full liquor license.

Several lawmakers believe small towns might benefit from making full licenses more accessible. A majority of full licenses are currently concentrated in the state’s largest cities. Businesses that do hold full liquor licenses in small towns include big chain restaurants like Chili’s or Applebee’s.

A quota system from the 1980s caps the number of certain licenses, making them extremely expensive, said Sen. Ron Griggs of Alamogordo. In some cases, it can cost $250,000 to $1 million to buy a license from someone willing to sell, Griggs said.

He predicts owners of limited liquor licenses would push back if lawmakers tried to make the system more flexible.

“Finding the right answer has been really difficult,” Griggs said.

State Rep. Debbie Rodella, an Espanola Democrat who serves as chairwoman of the Economic and Rural Development Committee, said she will add the issue to the committee’s agenda ahead of the 2019 legislative session.

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