Constitutional court strikes down parts of liquor law

The Sala IV constitutional court has declared certain parts of the new alcohol law to be unconstitutional.

The news came in a summary issued by the court’s press office Wednesday afternoon, but the full decision was not available immediately.

The court threw out sections of the law, No. 9047, that cover payments of license fees to municipalities by bars and liquor stores. But it left in place a section that covers alcohol licenses for restaurants.

The court, which voted at 4 p.m., also said that the license fees for restaurants and hotels that serve alcohol should be less than the amount stipulated in the law and should be based on the location, size, type of operation and the amount of infrastructure.

The court also stipulated that a prohibition on selling, renting or otherwise transferring alcohol licenses should not take effect until the law has been in effect two years. The original law said 180 days.

The new law, passed in June 2012, increased the fees and gave municipalities more say in setting fees for the licenses, which are calledpatentes de licores.
Many restaurant owners and operators of small bars found that they were being asked to pay a high fee every four months. Although the amount varied by canton, the cost was the same regardless of the size of the operation and how much alcohol was sold.

Some bars closed, and some restaurants stopped selling alcohol, despite the negative marketing implications.

Lawmakers were not unaware, even though the same legislators that are working now passed the law in 2012.

Lawmakers from the Partido Acción Ciudadana said in late July that they have prepared a change in the alcohol law that will make the liquor license payments progressive.

The court characterized its ruling as a temporary one until the legislature makes changes consistent with the decision.

Also as part of the decision, the Sala IV adjusted the amount that would be paid by licenses holders. It said it did this to avoid grave dislocations in the security, justice and social peace. The summary suggests that the temporary license fees would be cut in half in some cases. These measures will stay in place until the legislature passes its own rules, the court said.

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