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Monday, Apr. 11, 2011

Corkage fee bill sails to Gregoire's desk

OLYMPIA -- Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to sign a bill into law in the next few weeks that would legalize Yakima's Corkage Free Zone program.

The state Senate voted 45-4 earlier this week to pass House Bill 1227, which would allow restaurants to make agreements with local wineries to sell wine that could be opened in that restaurant without a corkage fee.

The state House voted unanimously for the bill in February.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches. He could not be reached Thursday, but has said in the past that it was important to support a program that helps restaurants and wineries bring in business, especially during a tough economy.

"I'm very pleased and excited that we're able to pass this bill," said Jar Arcand, owner of Santiago's in downtown Yakima, who actively lobbied for the bill.

Arcand was one of the founders of the Corkage Free Zone program, which launched in September 2009 with downtown restaurants agreeing to waive the corkage fee for wines purchased from nearby wineries or wine shops on the same day.

But in November, the state Liquor Control Board deemed the program illegal, contending that when restaurants offered free corkage for certain locally purchased wines, they were creating exclusive agreements with those wineries, which it said was not allowed under current laws.

The state agency only became aware of Yakima's program after a wineries group in Spokane tried to start a similar program there.

Though it held a strict interpretation of the law, the state Liquor Control Board maintained that it supported the core purpose of the program and ultimately put its full support behind the bill.