OLCC Privatization: The 2014 Oregon Legislative Sessions Ends With No Overhaul of the OLCC

OLCC Privatization: The 2014 Oregon Legislative Sessions Ends With No Overhaul of the OLCC.

The Oregon Legislature adjourned on Friday March 7th.  Senate Bill 1559 that proposed to “modernize” the OLCC did not even make the list of the session’s biggest issues.

The likely reason for the quiet death of SB 1559 is that Oregon lawmakers signaled early that the proposal was essentially doomed.  In short, the bill would have allowed grocery stores, drug stores, and other retail locations with more than 10,000 square feet to sell distilled spirits while preserving the OLCC’s control over the supply chain.  The bill also would have potentially provided existing liquor stores with a path to continued viability.  This compromise on liquor privatization was apparently too much of a compromise–leaving most stakeholders unhappy without enough to bring them all together.

To be fair, privatization, modernization, or whatever you want to call it will have winners and losers.  Potentially big winners and big losers.  With stakes that involve so much money and the very viability of a business model in some cases, making everyone happy will likely be impossible.  For this reason, the proponents of privatization may have a better chance at the ballot box than the legislature.

The Northwest Grocer Association has filed numerous initiatives seeking to privatize the OLCC and to allow businesses with over 10,000 square feet to sell spirits at retail.  At some point, they will select one version to qualify for the 2014 ballot.  By filing numerous versions, the Association has been able to keep its options open with the goal of building the best coalition possible to back the ballot in the fall.  The initiatives have some commonalities with Washington’s Initiative 1183, which may or may not be a good thing.