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Service began as an economic lifeline for restaurants and bars during pandemic; new start date is Jan. 1.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Oregon lawmakers could make to-go cocktails that began during the COVID-19 pandemic permanent.To-go cocktails in sealed containers, approved as an economic lifeline for restaurants and bars, may well become a permanent feature after the coronavirus pandemic under a bill that has cleared both houses of the Oregon Legislature.

A 51-7 vote of the House on Tuesday, June 1, sent Senate Bill 317 to Gov. Kate Brown.

It originated during a third special session of the Legislature on Dec. 21. But that law is set to expire 60 days after Brown rescinds her pandemic emergency orders, now due to end June 28. Brown has said she would lift most restrictions on businesses if 70% of Oregonians age 16 and older receive at least one vaccination against COVID-19.

"I suspect many of the people who utilize cocktail delivery are going to want this to continue," Rep. Rob Nosse, a Democrat from Portland and the bill's floor manager, said. "Let's not abandon a mode of support for these restaurants. Let's allow them to continue."

Oregon is one of about a dozen states, none in the West, that authorized to-go cocktails during the pandemic.

Under the terms of the bill, there may be a hiatus of four months, assuming Brown does not renew her emergency orders.

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Although the bill takes effect upon Brown's signature, it also sets the new date for to-go cocktails on Jan. 1. This gap would allow the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to set any new rules required to govern to-go cocktails.

The current law sets a limit of two sealed cocktails to-go for each "substantial" food item ordered. That language was omitted from the bill, though OLCC could do something similar by rule.

A few dissenters argued against it on grounds of potential alcohol abuse.

"I believe it's a problem longterm if we allow it to go on," Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-Portland, said. "We just need to stop."

Sanchez is director of family services at the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland. She sponsored legislation to increase state beer and wine taxes, which have not changed in about four decades. The legislation did not advance, but a substitute will require a legislative task force to return to the 2022 session with a proposal to reduce excessive drinking and a way to pay for expanded treatment.

Rep. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, read a physician's testimony about the effects of the pandemic emergency on increased drinking and what might happen when the emergency is lifted.

Nosse said he agreed that the state needs more money, aside from a redirection of cannabis sales taxes required by voter approval of Measure 110 last fall, to support greater efforts against abuse of alcohol and other drugs.

OLCC has received about a dozen complaints, most of them by people unable to obtain to-go cocktails in their areas or dissatisfied with third-party charges for delivery.

Nosse said such charges may deter excessive drinking.

"We do know that people who might be tempted to binge drink or over consume are price sensitive," he said.

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