- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A proposed repeal of Oklahoma’s ban on wine and strong beer in grocery and convenience stores moved a step closer to the ballot Wednesday, but one of the state’s largest distributors says part of the proposal would threaten hundreds of jobs.

The Senate Committee on Rules voted 12-3 for the resolution by Republican Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond. It would strike a regulatory exemption for alcoholic beverages containing 3.2-percent alcohol or less, which Jolley said would put high-alcohol beverage manufacturers on more equal footing in distribution.

Currently, liquor, wine and beer in excess of that limit can be sold only at package stores, which are strictly regulated and closed on Sundays. Oklahoma is one of only five states in which low-point beer is sold, refrigerated and purchased at grocery and convenience stores until 2 a.m. and on Sundays.

The state prohibits manufacturers from distributing beers that contain more than 3.2-percent alcohol. But because beverages below that alcohol level are regulated differently, manufacturers like Anheuser-Busch are able to distribute them.

The company bought a full-page advertisement in The Oklahoman newspaper Wednesday attacking the proposal and threatening it would “force Anheuser-Busch out of Oklahoma” and raise the price of beer.

Anheuser-Busch owns distribution centers in Oklahoma City and Tulsa and would have to sell them within five years if the constitutional amendment is adopted as written, spokesman Eric James said. The company otherwise supports efforts to modernize the state’s alcohol regulations, James said.

Jolley said he expects the size of alcohol distribution networks to increase if voters adopt the proposal, and acknowledged some people working for current brewery-owned distributors could lose their jobs.

“I think there’s plenty of money and plenty of jobs to go around,” Jolley said. “I don’t think this is a job-killer. I think this is a market-changer.”

Oklahoma’s alcohol-regulation framework was put in place in the late 1950s, and much of it is in the state constitution, which requires a public vote to amend. Reform efforts have run into problems trying to satisfy competing interest groups.

If the Legislature approves a ballot measure, voters will have a chance in November to overhaul how the state regulates the industry.

The committee passed several other proposed ballot measures Wednesday. One would repeal a section of the constitution forbidding the state from using public money or property to benefit a religion, a proposal introduced after the state Supreme Court ruled last summer that a granite monument of the Ten Commandments violated that section.

Other proposed constitutional amendments passed Wednesday include: increasing the cap on the state’s Constitutional Reserve Fund, allowing the governor to appoint the state’s labor commissioner, authorizing Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust money to recruit physicians to medically underserved areas and codifying voter ID requirements in the state constitution.



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