Las Vegas Sun

August 20, 2014

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Ask Mr. Sun:

Is booze banned at the state Capitol?

Sun Coverage

Mr. Sun: Carson City legend has it that there’s no booze allowed in Nevada’s Capitol. As the story goes, before the Legislature had its own building across the mall from the Capitol, lawmakers were getting plied too early and too often by lobbyists. Is that true? And is the new Legislative Building dry too?

State law — NRS 331.190 — does indeed prohibit the “sale, gift or disposal of liquor” in the Capitol.

Before the ban took effect, in 1897, “the most lucrative concession in Carson City was running the bar, or ‘the well’ as it was commonly known, in the Capitol during legislative sessions,” former state archivist Guy Rocha said during an address to the Legislature.

“Prodigious amounts of alcohol were consumed during the course of the legislative process,” he said.

According to accounts, some grew concerned that all the booze set the wrong example for the populace and might hinder the Legislature’s sausage-making abilities.

The effort to ban alcohol in the Capitol began in the 1893 session. By the

1895 session, it had the support of the Assembly Committee on Public Morals and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

The measure passed after a close call in the Senate but was set to take effect after the 1895 Legislature adjourned.

“Beginning in 1897, legislators were compelled to walk across the street to patronize Carson City’s bars and saloons to do their drinking,” Rocha said.

But not always. According to Sun Capital Bureau Chief Cy Ryan, who began covering the Nevada Legislature in 1963, lawmakers would keep bottles of booze in an icebox in the press room and stop by to pour themselves a drink.

(Mr. Sun notes that keeping their drinks in the press room would have allowed these lawmakers, had they been caught imbibing in the Capitol, to fall back on their old favorite — blaming the media.)

It’s unclear whether the prohibition on drinking in the Capitol Building extends to the Legislative Building, where lawmakers began holding sessions in 1971.

The law names the Capitol, and an argument can be made that it is specific to that structure.

In 2007, lawmakers passed a bill to allow the sale of souvenir wine in the Legislative Building’s gift shop. So at least some believed the ban applied to the newer building.

However, Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau, said alcohol is served in the Legislative Building during evening receptions. Though, he said, that’s only on “very rare” occasions.

Questions for Mr. Sun can be sent to [email protected].

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