The Push to Change NJ’s Liquor-License Laws
New Jersey's rules surrounding liquor licenses are archaic and in great need of modernization, according to certain individuals close to the issue.
One hope is for the eventual passage of legislation that would create a new class of licenses — more restrictive as to what can be served, as well as where and when, but much cheaper than the current prices driven up astronomically through bidding wars on the private market.
For several decades, the Garden State has restricted the maximum number of licenses within a municipality based on population — determined through the census each decade. The equation differs based on the type of license — a restaurant versus a liquor store, for example.
"The problem in some of our older municipalities is there could be too many liquor licenses, and that could pose some public safety problems," said Jon Moran, a senior legislative analyst with the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. "Then you're in a growth municipality where you're going to have to wait 10 years until the Census is done before you can issue another license or two."
Moran said the League would like to see towns have more discretion in the distribution of liquor licenses, even if additional licenses were limited.
The League supports a measure from Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, which creates two new types of liquor licenses that would allow restaurants to serve only to customers dining at tables. The bill also provides tax credits to compensate existing license owners for the expected loss in value.
Skip Reale, a Willingboro attorney who practices alcoholic beverage law, would not throw his support behind the Burzichelli legislation, but said updates are needed to the state's regulations. He's a proponent of "doing away with the population restrictions" and allowing individual towns to decide what's best for the community.
"We regulate an industry in the 21st century based upon moral philosophies that date to the 1890s and with a regulatory scheme that dates to the very end of Prohibition," Reale said. "It screams for modernization."
In some communities, Reale said, a license can be sold from one entity to the next for as little as $30,000. But in the hotter markets, the price tag can top $1 million.
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