South Carolina's Senate Judiciary Committee has done right in approving a bill to allow voters to decide next November whether they want to scrap the state's ridiculous minibottle law.
Also approved is a bill that sets rules for selling poured liquor and allows a nickel-per-drink sales tax to replace money lost from minibottle taxes. This measure should quell opposition from state bureaucrats who feared losing $15 million a year in various taxes and surcharges that minibottles bought to their coffers.
However, liquor distributors also have a lot of clout and are doing everything they can to derail the measure. Although lawmakers overwhelmingly support the Judiciary panel's bill, it's by no means a slam-dunk. Parliamentary maneuvering has blocked similar measures in the past.
The minibottle law is the height of silliness. It encourages customers to consume more alcohol in their drinks than they normally would and charges them more to do it. It's bad for business, too, as it puts South Carolina's hospitality industry at a competitive disadvantage to other states.
Specifically, the minibottle law requires bartenders to pour customers liquor from 1.7 ounce bottles, making the drinks stronger and more expensive than mixed drinks in other states, which generally take 1 to 1.25 ounces.
A mixed drink that calls for two alcoholic beverages amounts to a 3.4 ounce drink - much more than what most social drinkers are used to.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving has long been opposed to the minibottles mandate because they say it puts more drunk drivers on the road. The state's bartenders and restaurateurs agree that the law, in effect, forces them to make drinks more intoxicating.
South Carolina was one of nine "dry" states that passed the rule in 1971. It was supposed to discourage people from bringing their own liquor to mix drinks. The thinking was, if the bottles had to be paid for at the restaurant there'd be less drinking.
The plan didn't work. The other eight states long since sacked their minibottle laws, but the Palmetto State has kept its on the books. How, in the name of good business, common sense and public safety, has that come to pass?
First, the minibottle law was written into the state Constitution, making it more complicated to get rid of. Simple legislation can't repeal it.
Second, was the opposition of state bureaucrats and small liquor distributors. But this could be the year they're either beaten or circumvented. In any event, South Carolinians should be given the opportunity to decide for themselves whether to retain or repeal the archaic minibottle law.
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