Virginia’s liquor ratio law will stay in place for at least one more year.
The Senate’s Subcommittee on Alcoholic Beverage Control decided to scrap an idea that would have gotten rid of the ratio for restaurants that make $500,000 or more in food sales.
“It seemed like a lot of people in the industry had some opposition to this measure,” Division of Legislative Services attorney David May told the subcommittee Friday. “It wasn’t the amount. They couldn’t come to an agreement, period.”
Virginia’s ratio law has been in place since 1968 and bans bars in the state by requiring 45 percent of a business’s annual sales come from food and the remaining 55 percent from alcohol (which doesn’t include beer and wine).
Lawmakers, like Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, who chairs the Senate ABC subcommittee, have tried for years to alter the ratio rule. And although this won’t be the year it goes away, the subcommittee did move two bills that will loosen liquor laws in the state.
Senate Bill 1242 from Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, would change the calculation of the ratio for restaurants that specialize in high-end spirits by considering volume of liquor, not sale price.
Those businesses faced a unique problem, since small amounts of alcohol can cost thousands of dollars. Selling just a few high-end shots a month could make those places fall outside of the legal ratio.
Lawmakers discussed giving those restaurants a specific license, but that would be at odds with another directive for ABC to study and eliminate some of the dozens of licenses already offered, May said.
The ABC subcommittee also moved a bill forward that would flip Virginia law on how a locality gets permission to serve mixed drinks and liquors.
Right now, Virginia cities, counties and towns are dry by default and local voters have to pass a referendum to allow liquor service. Most of the larger cities in the state passed referendums in the 1960s once the ratio law was established to allow liquor in restaurants again.
Senate Bill 1110, also from Reeves, would flip that and allow all of Virginia’s localities to serve liquor by default. Localities could hold referendums if they’d like to still bar mixed drink service.
If passed, it would only affect a handful of places in the state, DeSteph said.
Right now, individual businesses can apply for special licenses to allow liquor in dry counties.
Both bills passed out of subcommittee to continue to the full committee, then the full Senate.