Staff Columnist

Bootleggers rejoice: Iowa rethinking old-timey booze laws

Legislature responding after Iowans spoke out about outdated restriction

Des Moines, city of. When the Leinenkugel Beer Wagon appears in the Iowa State Fair parade in Des Moines on Tuesday (8-15), it will bring back memories of the way beer was delivered from the late 1800s to the early 1940s. This authentic wagon has been fully restored and is pulled by a team of dappled-gray Percherons driven by Dell Gigante of East Troy, Wisconsin (E. Troy, Wisc.). Photo 1989.
Des Moines, city of. When the Leinenkugel Beer Wagon appears in the Iowa State Fair parade in Des Moines on Tuesday (8-15), it will bring back memories of the way beer was delivered from the late 1800s to the early 1940s. This authentic wagon has been fully restored and is pulled by a team of dappled-gray Percherons driven by Dell Gigante of East Troy, Wisconsin (E. Troy, Wisc.). Photo 1989.

Iowans may soon have more options for getting tipsy in the comfort of their own homes.

You may recall last year when the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division sent out an educational bulletin, warning Iowans against importing beer and wine from other states, even if it’s for personal use.

Current law allows Iowans to import up to one liter of liquor, but no beer or wine can be personally imported. Anything else is bootlegging under the law.

That warning caught Iowans’ attention. Several Iowa news organizations and national beer industry blogs published stories questioning the state’s overbearing regulations.

I wrote at the time, “I saw all kinds of Iowans — left, right, and apathetic — come together to mock and chastise the folly of overregulation. For a moment, drinkers across the political spectrum were united for limited government.”

I’m happy to report the Iowa Legislature has heard our cries.

Senate File 2347 would permit Iowans to bring small amounts of beer and wine across state lines, allowing four-and-a-half gallons of beer or nine liters of wine. The bill would also lift the limit on personal liquor imports from one liter to nine liters.

Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, told me he introduced the bill to the Senate State Government committee after concerned constituents read about the restrictions in the news and asked for a change.

The legislation sailed through the Iowa Senate earlier this year, earning nearly unanimous approval about a week after it was first introduced in February. Only Sen. Mark Costello, R-Imogene, voted against it.

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The proposal still needs approval from the Republican-controlled Iowa House and Gov. Kim Reynolds in order to become law.

The bill has drawn support from the Iowa Brewers Guild, representing Iowa’s craft brewing industry. They’re lobbying for the bill, even though it may provide a modest boost to the brewers’ out-of-state competitors.

“We’re regular beer drinkers too, and we travel out of state. I personally have brought a couple beers back to share with my brother-in-law. It’s sort of impractical for regular people and we recognize that,” said J. Wilson, known as the “minister of Iowa beer” at the Iowa Brewers Guild.

Wilson said the law makes unwitting outlaws out of ordinary people. In metro areas like the Quad Cities and Council Bluffs-Omaha, for example, many Iowans regularly cross the border to grocery shop.

“I think it probably never occurred to anyone that this was on the books,” Wilson told me this week.

That is just one example of lawmakers moving to modernize Iowa’s antiquated laws governing booze. At least two other alcohol-related bills still are eligible to advance in the Legislature this year.

House File 2338 would require more drunken driving offenders to install ignition interlock devices, but also lift some restrictions and expand the availability of temporary restricted licenses.

Senate File 2169 would protect establishments selling alcohol from liability in some cases where an intoxicated person injures another person.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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