FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky lawmakers advanced a bill Monday allowing to-go alcohol sales to become a permanent fixture touted as an economic shot for restaurants reeling from coronavirus-related losses.
The Senate passed the legislation on a 28-7 vote, sending it to the House. The proposal would allow Kentucky restaurants and bars to sell alcohol, including cocktails, in sealed containers for delivery and to-go orders as part of meal purchases.
Early in the fight against the pandemic, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order allowing alcohol to-go sales to help cushion the financial blow from coronavirus-related restrictions.
The Senate-passed measure would make that accommodation permanent.
“Small businesses love it, and it’s been very successful,” said Republican Sen. John Schickel, the bill’s lead sponsor.
Another key Republican, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, called it a “lifeline” for restaurants hit hard by lost sales from the pandemic. Alcohol to-go sales have been a boon for restaurants, Thayer said, noting that drinks yield higher profit margins than food.
“We’re not giving them any stimulus money,” Thayer said in promoting the bill. “We’re not passing a bailout for them. We’re just allowing them to have free enterprise.”
Under the measure, a to-go alcohol order would be allowed so long it’s purchased with a prepared meal. Alcohol sales would limited to amounts “a reasonable person” would purchase with a meal.
The alcohol would have to be transported in a locked glove compartment, the trunk or other places not considered to be in the “passenger area” of a vehicle. Democratic Sen. David Yates praised that part of the bill, saying it makes “a heck of a lot more sense” for someone to take alcohol home to drink instead of consuming it at an establishment and then driving home.
The bill would not allow such alcohol sales in “bulk quantities” and would prohibit to-go alcohol deliveries to people under age 21 or to areas of Kentucky where alcohol sales are prohibited. While Kentucky is the epicenter of bourbon production, liquor sales are banned in parts of rural Kentucky.
Similar efforts to support cocktails to-go have surfaced across the country.
Legislation has been filed in 26 states to permit, extend or make permanent cocktails to-go measures, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Seventeen of those states have bills to make the measures permanent, it said.
“Cocktails to-go have proven to be an important economic lifeline for struggling restaurants and have been fully embraced by adult consumers, said Lisa Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the council. ”It has allowed spirits consumers to support their favorite restaurant or bar, while also enjoying a handcrafted cocktail with their meal at home.”
The legislation is Senate Bill 67.