Richmond, VA – On Jan. 30, the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services killed legislation introduced by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) to privatize Virginia’s ABC Store operations. Although SB 1542 will not be considered further this year, Sen. Obenshain says he will continue to work towards the goal of divesting these operations.
“Although we have considered many vitally important bills this session, few pieces of legislation struck a chord with voters as much as this one did,” said Sen. Obenshain. “The voters do not understand why the state needs to be in the retail business, and frankly, neither do I.”
Virginia’s ABC Stores are a relic of an earlier era, a holdover from the early days after Prohibition when many, including oil baron John D. Rockefeller, were concerned that the private sale of alcohol would corrupt the moral character of the citizenry and lead to moral decay.
Seventy-five years after the repeal of Prohibition, nothing has changed in Virginia – even though thirty-two states allow the private sale of distilled spirits. In fact, these “private sale” states actually experience slightly lower levels of underage drinking, driving under the influence, and alcoholism.
Sen. Obenshain’s bill would have created “package store licenses,” which would authorize the retail sale of alcohol beverages, to be auctioned off one at a time, with no less than one license in every city and county, but not more than one per 10,000 residents, adjusted every five years. The auction price would form the basis for that licensee’s annual fees, adjusted for inflation, and the state would continue to tax the sale of spirits. No licensee could locate within a one mile radius of an existing license holder, making the first license issued in any locality the most valuable.
“Handled correctly, privatizing the ABC Stores will save money and increase consumer choice,” said Obenshain, noting that privatization tends to offer consumers such benefits as greater convenience, better hours, wider selections, lower prices, and the innovation inherent in competition-driven systems.
Although the bill did not pass this year, Sen. Obenshain intends to work with interested parties to revise and reintroduce the legislation next year. Support for the measure transcends the usual political divides: “Everywhere I go, people ask me about this bill,” said Obenshain. “Democrats and Republicans, young and old, they all want the government out of the business of selling alcohol.”
A Facebook group Sen. Obenshain created for supporters of privatization efforts currently boasts over four hundred members, and in a recent survey available on http://www.markobenshain.com and mailed to thousands of voters across the district, seventy percent of respondents favored privatization, with nearly 85% supportive if they were assured that the Commonwealth could reap a considerable profit by the conversion. The numbers ran still higher if voters were assured that the Commonwealth could impose restrictions on the location and advertising of distilled spirit retailers. “The people of the twenty-sixth district understand what some in Richmond just don’t get,” commented Obenshain. “They aren’t ready to give up on this bill, and neither am I.”
Senator Obenshain represents the twenty-sixth district in the Virginia Senate. The district includes the city of Harrisonburg and the counties of Warren, Shenandoah, Page.