2021 Legislative Roundup: COVIDWashing Runs Rampant

As in 2020, the 2021 California legislative session was obsessed with the generationally defining COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike 2020, however, legislative efforts to mitigate its impacts and protect public health were complicated by a new perspective: COVID-19 as an opportunity. The legislative session saw sweeping deregulatory measures in terms of alcohol sales, extending or making permanent "regulatory relief" measures that the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) originally intended as stopgaps to protect businesses during economic downturns. These measures were explicitly cheered on by Governor Newsom, whose own Plumpjack Group--a wine and hospitality consortium which he has placed in blind trust but refused to divest from--stands to benefit.

Yet the news was not all bleak. The Alcohol Justice and CAPA legislative "batting averages" for 2021 are below.
Positions Taken Passed Bills Failed or Held Bills
 AJ Supported 2  4
 AJ Opposed 7  11

Including all bills for which AJ took a position, our batting average was an impressive 0.541. However, that counts bills that were held over for the next legislative session as wins. Those bills may return next year and be signed into law. Including only bills that made it to the Governor's desk, Alcohol Justice went 4 for 12, for a 0.333 batting average.

For reference, the 2021 Major League Baseball leader in batting average was Trea Turner, with 0.328.

Probably the most significant loss was the expanded footprint for nearly every alcohol licensee interested in pursuing it. This resulted in the so-called "parklets" which have already become a flashpoint for noise violations and for being occasionally crashed into by intoxicated drivers. Other notable losses included allowing wineries to open more than one "tasting room," and continuation of the cocktail-to-go policies advanced by ABC as regulatory relief. The latter bill, however, was notably watered down to only allow these cocktails to be picked up in person, blunting app-based delivery companies' efforts to get deeper into the alcohol sales field.

Notable victories included bills that incentivizes the California justice system to provide buprenorphine or other medication-assisted treatment to returning citizens, and a strengthening of ABC's ability to use minor decoys when checking alcohol licensees' legal compliance.

Notably dangerous bills that may return include SB 793, a bill that would grant all music venues a liquor license regardless of the presence of minors. In essence, the requirement to card at the door would be lifted for any venue with a sound system. This policy is a remarkably ill-conceived effort to promote the entertainent industry, and not only greatly facilitates alcohol advertising to youth, but increases the likelihood young concertgoers will be subjected to dangerous or predatory behavior. Alcohol Justice is monitoring this and other two-year bills closely.

Image courtesy Dan Gaken. Used under a Creative Commons license.