A bill heard at the Montana Legislature Tuesday would allow curbside alcohol sales by bars, breweries and restaurants on a permanent basis, extending temporary rules adopted to help businesses struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

House Bill 226, sponsored by Katie Zolnikov, R-Billings, is supported by a coalition of hospitality sector business groups that have often disagreed over alcohol-related bills in the past. Among the measure’s supporters are the Montana Tavern Association, Brewers Association, Restaurant Association and Beer & Wine Distributors Association.

Supporters said relaxing the state’s previous restrictions on alcohol sales would make it easier for hospitality businesses to recover from the pandemic. They also said the temporary curbside sales rules issued by former Gov. Steve Bullock last year haven’t caused major issues.

“It worked during a global pandemic, so if it can work successfully then, I believe it can work successfully all the time,” Zolnikov said Tuesday during the bill’s initial hearing before the House Business and Labor Committee.

If passed by the Legislature, the bill would let businesses with alcohol licenses sell both packaged alcohol and prepared mixed drinks to-go. It also includes a provision that would explicitly let those businesses sell alcohol at drive-through windows.

Additionally, the bill includes provisions that simplify “dock sales” by alcohol distributors and make it easier for them to deliver shipments to hard-to-reach customers like mid-slope ski lodges.

No one spoke in direct opposition to the bill at Tuesday’s hearing. Republican Rep. Neil Duram of Eureka, however, did indicate he was concerned about Montana seeing higher numbers of fatal crashes involving impaired drivers last year.

Bill supporters said the bill does nothing to change the state’s existing open container law.

The House Business and Labor committee will vote on moving the bill forward in the legislative process at a later date.

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Eric DietrichDeputy Editor

Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus's student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019.