Group pursues rules to discourage alcohol abuse

A group that spent 10 months reviewing Wyoming's alcohol laws advocates increasing state alcohol taxes and using the money to fund programs aimed at cutting underage and binge drinking.

The Wyoming Prevention Framework Communities group also recommended to state lawmakers that the state require mandatory training for alcohol servers and ban sales to drunk people.

The group, which is made up of representatives from all 23 Wyoming counties and the Wind River Indian Reservation, released its report Thursday.

Binge and underage drinking are two of the state's top health issues, according to Ernie Johnson, a University of Wyoming criminal justice instructor who managed the review effort.

"We have minimized the concerns for too long," he said.

The report recommends "substantially" increasing the tax on all alcohol products to equal the national average, with top priority going to a beer tax hike. Beer in Wyoming is now taxed at 2 cents a gallon - the lowest in the nation. The national average is 26 cents a gallon.

The group acknowledged that the tax hike is the most controversial recommendation in the report.

"It also has the greatest potential for generating and providing much-needed resources for Wyoming communities," the report states.

In advocating for the higher tax, the report notes that Wyoming's current tax rate hasn't changed since it was set in 1935.

The report recommends creating a system for providing local governments with the tax money in order to address binge and underage drinking. However, there wasn't consensus among the review group on the best way to achieve those ends.

Mike Moser, executive director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association, opposed raising alcohol taxes when he met with the group in May. Doing so would punish responsible drinkers along with people who abuse alcohol, he told the group.

The report suggests mandatory server and owner training as ways to cut down on the sale of alcohol to underage drinkers and people who have already had too much to drink.

Liquor retailers, working with the state's Liquor Distribution Division, already offer a training program on serving alcohol responsibly. However, Wyoming law does not require servers, managers or owners to participate.

The report offered statistics showing that most of the citations and infractions handed out during alcohol stings went to people who hadn't received server training.

The review group also recommended legislation that would ban alcohol sales to drunk people and prohibit drink specials that promote excessive drinking. The report cited research showing such laws can reduce alcohol-related problems, like car crashes, if they are adequately enforced.

Wyoming is one of three states that doesn't have a law prohibiting alcohol sales to drunk people.
source: Billings Gazette