Administrators, staff and residents of Montana retirement communities asked the Legislature Thursday to allow their facilities to be licensed to serve alcohol to residents and their guests as part of the increasing services retirees expect.
Retirement communities are evolving, supporters said, and offer amenities including swimming pools, yoga studios, chapels and libraries and residents would like to have a cocktail or a glass of wine with dinner, supporters said.
"The residents that are moving in want to continue to live the life that they've enjoyed," said Jason Cronk, the CEO of Immanuel Lutheran Communities in Kalispell.
Joe May, the executive director at Touchmark in Helena, said once a week they've been offering a no-cost social hour where they serve beer, wine and mixed drinks.
"We've been able to see residents who are coming out of their apartments, residents who typically isolate," he said, adding that those who are socially engaged live longer, happier lives.
Allowing Touchmark to have a liquor license would "make it a sustainable option to be able to provide this more often," May said.
John Whiteman, a resident of Touchmark, urged lawmakers to support the bill, saying: "Wherever alcohol is served it gives us the opportunity to join together and have a social group."
The Montana Tavern Association and the owner of an all-beverage liquor license opposed the bill, arguing that residents of retirement communities can already have alcohol in their rooms and bring it to dining areas.
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"I suppose residents could bring their own blenders, their own shakers, their own mixers, their own ice and gather it on down in the public area and serve themselves and their guests some drinks," said Republican Rep. Sue Vinton of Billings, who is sponsoring the bill. "But that's not the intent of the bill and you heard them. They want to be able to relax, enjoy and be served along with their guests."
The bill seeks an exemption to state law that limits the number of all-beverage license available in communities based on population. Liquor could only be sold to residents and their guests between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. and could only be consumed on premises, Vinton said.
John Iverson, a lobbyist for the Montana Tavern Association, said retirement communities would need numerous other exemptions from state liquor laws to sell alcohol to residents.
Vinton said similar exemptions already exist for veterans, fraternal organizations, airports and officer's clubs and could be extended to retirement communities.
The committee did not vote on the bill.
A similar measure easily passed the House in 2017, but died in a Senate committee amid concerns about senior citizens drinking alcohol that may interact with their medications.
"Please do not get hung up on the medication piece," said Brenda Connelly, director of operations for The Springs living communities in Whitefish, Missoula, Butte and Billings. She said many people take medications where drinking alcohol is not recommended and seniors have the right to decide that for themselves.