Michelle Stennett

BOISE — To help support small Idaho businesses and establish a level of fairness among movie theaters in the state, the Senate approved a bill to let theaters in resort towns serve beer and wine without having to separate guests who are under the age of 21.

Senate Bill 1179, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, would give licensed movie theaters in resort cities the option to not segregate patrons where beer and wine is being sold and consumed, allowing people who are under the age of 21 years old to freely walk around the theater. It passed the Senate on a 21-12 vote.

“(The bill) helps support local Idahoans and small businesses,” Stennett said.

This bill is different from a proposal that passed both the House and Senate earlier this session, allowing historic theaters, under certain circumstances, to serve beer and wine.

There are 14 resort cities with theaters in Idaho, including ones in McCall, Cascade and Stanley. Eight theaters are currently open and operating, according to Stennett.

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Right now, only three Idaho theaters are allowed to serve alcohol without having to segregate guests — The Flicks in Boise, the Opera House in Sun Valley and Magic Lantern Cinemas in Ketchum. This is because the Legislature in 2006 made a minor tweak in the law, allowing only theaters with a license that was valid and not suspended or revoked as of Jan. 1, 2006, to serve alcohol without segregating. None of these theaters, which have been in operation for decades, have had any problems, Stennett said.

“From a policy perspective, it’s not fair or equitable for small businesses to be treated differently,” she said.

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, spoke in opposition of the bill, expressing concern with the potential risk it poses for minors trying to get their hands on alcohol.

“This one in my mind takes it and says, well, we’re going to have the age restriction except in a dark theater in a resort town,” Rice said. “I do think that there is a good reason that we restrict the consumption of alcohol with regard to minors. ... Frankly, I can’t support this bill.”

Savannah Cardon is the Caldwell reporter for the Idaho Press. Follow her on Twitter, @savannahlcardon, or reach her at 208-465-8172.

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