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Cocktails in Convenience Stores?

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The 6,000 convenience and grocery stores licensed to sell beer and liquor in Louisiana could also sell mixed drinks under a bill that won approval Thursday from a House committee, according to the Lousiana newspaper The Advocate.

The catch: The drinks must be frozen, mixed away from public view and put into cups with a lid.

Opponents said the restrictions aren't enough and that corner stores all over Louisiana will become daiquiri shops if House Bill 754 becomes law.

That could happen at "every Circle K, every convenience store, every B-Quik that has an Icee machine," warned Baton Rouge Republican Rep. Hunter Greene, who led the opposition.

Hundreds of convenience stores already sell frozen daiquiris, but the state commissioner of alcohol and tobacco has recently cracked down on sales he says are illegal and done "under the cover of darkness."

In a state with abysmal alcohol safety records, the proposal would further erode liquor laws, Commissioner Murphy Painter said.

Louisiana has the third highest rate of alcohol-related fatalities in the nation.

"This is a step toward making it less regulated," Painter said. "It just makes a lot of things unclear about enforcement and thwarts . . . responsible retailing."

The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee 8-4 with a host of unrelated changes tacked on, including one to restrict happy hours and another to regulate local wineries. The bill heads to the House floor.

Rep. Troy Hebert, D-Jeanerette and bill sponsor, said current law already allows for the sale of closed alcoholic beverage containers at corner stores, and Painter is just misinterpreting that law.

The bill would get the commissioner off of vendors' backs by specifically naming frozen drinks in the law, he said.

Sitting at the witness table with Hebert to explain the bill was Chris Young, a lawyer with Louisiana Association of Alcoholic Beverage Licensees.

Hebert could not explain after the committee meeting why a frozen mixed drink should be OK while other mixed drinks are not.

Neither could Painter, who said the distinction was illogical.

"Where do you draw the line?" he asked.

Painter told the committee that his problem with the rogue stores already selling daiquiris is that their permits do not allow them to mix drinks on the premises.

A frustrated Janet Dewey, a lobbyist for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, begged the committee to set aside "other interests" and consider the danger to-go mixed drinks pose to their constituents.

Dewey said mixed drinks should not be sold where people walk in with their children to shop.

"At some point Louisiana needs to take a stand" and pass "some safe, reasonable and passionate legislation on alcohol," Dewey said.

Rep. Robby Carter, D-Greensburg, pointed out that the difference between a closed container and an open one apparently amounts to which one has a straw.

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