116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa’s “new normal” as the coronavirus pandemic wanes will include a couple fewer restrictions on alcohol.
When bars and dining rooms were forced to close last year, state governments temporarily lifted booze regulations as a way of bolstering carryout business. Industry observers called it the biggest and quickest shift in alcohol policy since federal alcohol prohibition was repealed in 1933.
Some of those regulations will be permanent casualties of the pandemic. Good riddance.
Suspending alcohol regulations was among the first moves Gov. Kim Reynolds took at the beginning of the pandemic in Iowa. Just two days after she ordered bars and restaurants to close to in-person customers last March, she issued another order to allow businesses to sell drinks for off-premises consumption.
The market responded enthusiastically. It gave restaurants a way to sustain business during the period of heaviest restrictions early in the pandemic and they innovated with new concoctions and mix-it-yourself drink kits. It gave socially distancing customers a convenient way to get tipsy with delicious beverages at home.
It turned out nobody really missed the restrictions on booze to go. Last June, the Iowa Legislature passed and Reynolds signed a law to codify the change, making Iowa the first state to make its pandemic carryout policy permanent. It earned 140 aye’s and only four no’s at the Statehouse.
The Legislature followed up this year with a law to allow third-party delivery services — including apps such as Grubhub and DoorDash — to deliver alcohol from bars and restaurants. The policy might help reduce drunken driving by eliminating the need for late-night beer runs. That bill also earned overwhelming bipartisan support.
Last week, lawmakers finalized another bill to clean up the carryout drinks law they made last year, based on concerns from state regulators. The latest legislation clarifies the types of containers allowed. It also allows alcohol sales to start at 6 a.m. on Sundays rather than 8 a.m.
Bask in the freedom this summer with some early morning mimosas before mass.
The fact that the Legislature had to revisit the to-go issue nearly a year later underscores how complicated our booze laws are. Our own government doesn’t understand them well enough to change them on the first try.
“How many times have we voted on this bill in the last 12 months? Several,” Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, said last week.
Other states are following Iowa’s lead in permanently allowing to-go drinks. Local governments that expanded alcohol consumption on sidewalk and street cafes could make those permanent as well.
Alcohol is overly restricted throughout the country under a patchwork of regulatory relics from eras when governments were keen on imposing a particular view of morality on the public. A few businesses and bureaucrats benefit from the system, and most of those who are negatively affected have just accepted it.
States are finally making some modest changes, and all it took was a global public health emergency.
No reasonable person believes alcohol sales ought to be delayed for two hours on the one day each week when some people go to church, but we’ve tolerated it anyway. Bask in the freedom this summer with some early morning mimosas before mass.
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