General Assembly overrides governor’s veto, granting 1 Chicago business an exemption from state liquor law

General Assembly overrides governor’s veto, granting 1 Chicago business an exemption from state liquor law

State lawmakers passed into law a bill that exempts a single Chicago performance hall from a provision in Illinois state liquor law, overriding Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto. This practice of granting piecemeal exemptions is commonplace but cumbersome.

On Jan. 26, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed Senate Bill 332, a measure seeking to make a sole Chicago establishment exempt from Illinois’ state liquor laws. However, the Illinois House of Representatives on Feb. 13 voted to override the governor’s veto. Following the Illinois Senate’s successful override vote in January, this exemption has become law.

These types of carve-outs are symptoms of a flawed state liquor law, which constantly requires special exemptions to relieve some businesses of its burden.

Filed in January 2017 by Senate President John Cullerton, SB 332 amends Illinois’ Liquor Control Act of 1934 by adding an exemption to the law’s list of restrictions on the issuance and renewal of state liquor licenses. While it doesn’t list the exempted business by name, the language is written with such specificity that it’s clear it would apply to Chicago’s Thalia Hall, or perhaps an establishment within the venue.

According to state law, “No license shall be issued for the sale at retail of any alcoholic liquor within 100 feet of any church, school,” as well as other select institutions including hospitals and assisted living centers.

These restrictions have placed substantial obstacles in front of some business owners, prompting many to seek exemptions from lawmakers in order to simply conduct business. The General Assembly has granted exemptions from Liquor Control Act restrictions to more than 70 individual businesses.

Meanwhile, businesses that haven’t received an exemption must continue to obey the law or suffer the consequences. This can include a revocation of one’s liquor license, and therefore one’s business altogether.

Rauner explained the reasoning behind his veto in a letter to the General Assembly. Arguing that businesses shouldn’t have to rely on special exemptions to prosper, Rauner called upon lawmakers to reform the state’s system of liquor licensure. The governor suggested decentralizing the process of license issuance and renewal, relegating the responsibility to municipal governments.

“Local government officials can better determine whether allowing such exemptions and licenses is appropriate for a given community,” Rauner wrote, arguing that local communities are in a better position “to create a streamlined process for making these determinations in a business-responsive manner.”

That Springfield has found it necessary to exempt dozens of businesses from state law signals ample room for reform.

The habit of privileging select businesses over others has distracted lawmakers from the challenge of establishing a healthy business environment in Illinois overall. Targeting the root of regulatory inefficiency would be a far more constructive use of lawmakers’ time than simply enforcing it inequitably.

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