May 21, 2021
By Jenna Bentley

If there has been a silver lining from the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been the cuts in unnecessary red tape—ones that helped both businesses and customers during months of lockdowns. Now, Arizona has made one of these popular reforms permanent: to-go cocktails.

During the pandemic, when restaurants either shuttered their doors completely or were struggling to stay afloat, reductions in regulations helped them survive. In response, Governor Doug Ducey signed an executive order in 2020 allowing restaurants to sell cocktails to-go. Not only did this help struggling restaurants, but it also showed how a government prohibition on such sales in the name of public safety was unnecessary.

Opponents of the order claimed that allowing restaurants to sell cocktails to-go would devalue the existing government issued licenses for bars and retailers. However, while the Governor’s executive order was in place, the value of other licenses wasn’t affected. If anything, the order helped some businesses survive.

While the executive order is no longer valid, the popularity of to-go cocktails led to Arizona House Bill 2773. Sponsored by Representative Jeff Weninger, this bill changes state statute to allow restaurants to re-start selling to-go cocktails and for third-party facilities (think food delivery companies) to deliver them. Now, Gov. Ducey has signed the bill into law, ensuring that Arizona businesses can supply this popular service long after the pandemic is over.

Prior to the executive order, only bars could sell alcohol to-go in Arizona. The alcohol had to be packaged and sealed (such as growlers of beer or bottles of wine) and could not contain mixed drinks. But with the signing of HB 2773, now bars and restaurants can sell cocktails, beer, and wine. It is not just a win for the consumer, it is a win for restaurant owners and for the industry. “The passage of HB 2773 is a win-win for consumers, who approve of to-go cocktails by an overwhelming margin, and for restaurants and bars, by creating the flexibility needed to respond to changing customer demands,” said Dan Bogert, Chief Operating Officer of the Arizona Restaurant Association.  “Supporting cocktails to-go and creating the ability to deliver alcohol along with food orders in a safe and responsible way will play a big role in helping the industry recover from the gravest economic challenge restaurants and bars have faced.”

Cocktails to-go is not the only example of how reductions in government regulation can help Americans. Earlier this month, Gov. Ducey signed a first-in-the-nation telemedicine bill (HB 2454), allowing patients to more easily connect with medical providers via a smartphone or a computer. It was only during COVID-19 that rules preventing telehealth were temporarily relaxed so that in-person appointments would be limited for safety’s sake during the pandemic. Now, HB 2454 makes those relaxations permanent—and Arizonans will continue to be able to access medical care more flexibly.

Arizona is still recovering from the pandemic. As such, it is important that our state continues to encourage innovation and reduce regulatory barriers to help our economy to thrive once again. We applaud Gov. Ducey for signing HB 2773—and for recognizing that less red tape is good for Arizona businesses and consumers alike.

Jenna Bentley is the Director of Government Affairs at the Goldwater Institute.

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