Review of Iowa alcohol laws is the right call

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Here’s to Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision this week to order a comprehensive review of state laws governing liquor, wine and beer.

The governor’s order is a smart and timely call. An explosion of Iowa craft breweries, wineries and distilleries makes it high time to take another look at laws, which date back to 1934.

In the Cedar Rapids metro area alone there are a half-dozen locally owned breweries, with more likely on the way. Distilleries making a variety of products from Iowa grain also are dotting the state’s landscape. Anyone who has strolled through a Cedar Rapids farmers market knows Iowa’s wine industry is alive and well.

These businesses have become favorite spots for locals, destinations for visitors and a rapidly growing economic sector. According to a 2015 study, craft beer’s economic impact in Iowa is just over $100 million, generating 1,520 jobs and paychecks topping $42 million.

Iowa’s post-Prohibition-era laws present multiple barriers to these entrepreneurs. Lawmakers in recent years have sought to remove some of those obstacles, but it’s been a piecemeal approach. Distilleries, for example, still face production caps and are barred from selling their products by the drink on premises. Breweries that serve their craft beer on site in restaurants still can’t sell “out-the-door” products. Legislators, for various reasons, have declined to act on these issues.

A comprehensive review is a better approach. And a list of recommendations from a gubernatorial committee likely will carry extra weight in the Capitol.

Branstad’s panel will be chaired by Stephen Larson, administrator of the state Alcoholic Beverages Division, and Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority. It’s expected the group also will include industry representatives, substance abuse prevention experts and regulators. We hope Branstad’s appointees will reflect a broad range of perspectives to help make changes that balance the interests of the industry and the public.

We think it’s possible to remove hurdles for homegrown ventures without weakening regulations that have made Iowa’s alcohol sales system sound and stable for decades. If the panel, lawmakers and the governor can make that happen, we’ll be proposing more toasts in 2017.

• Gazette editorials reflect the consensus opinion of The Gazette Editorial Board. Share your comments and ideas with us: (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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