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No booze for DC residents? New Hampshire calls it an oversight, may fix law to avoid confusion

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CONCORD, N.H. - New Hampshire is assuring residents of the nation's capital that they can purchase alcohol in the state despite a law that suggests otherwise. But cigarettes? Maybe not.

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission recently told retailers they should accept Washington, D.C., driver's licenses when determining a buyer's age, even though state law does not explicitly include them and instead refers to licenses from "another state" or Canada.

The issue came up this month when a Concord store clerk refused to sell alcohol to a 25-year-old Washington, D.C., man. The incident, first reported by the Concord Monitor, prompted Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern to approach the commission.

"New Hampshire depends more on tourism, liquor sales and democracy than probably any other state, so anything that threatens the combination of those certainly raises red flags for me," he said. "Even if it's only been a few instances, I think it's a bad message to send."

Tourism is New Hampshire's second-largest industry, and the state rakes in money from out-of-staters lured by its tax-free booze. It also prides itself on having the nation's largest state Legislature and its first-in-the-nation presidential primary, which gives lesser-known candidates a fair shot and attracts political visitors from around the country.

Van Ostern said he believes new legislation likely is needed to permanently fix the problem. As it stands, the commission's clarification doesn't take into account residents of U.S. territories, he noted.

"I have no doubt this was an oversight, and I do think a fair reading of legislative intent would be to allow all those IDs, but I don't think we should be putting it on individual store clerks to be trying to decide what legislators meant 20 years ago when they passed a law," he said.

It's unclear how many other laws might unintentionally snub Washington residents, but at least one regarding cigarettes and other tobacco products includes the same language as the alcohol law.

Other laws, however, specifically mention Washington. For example, one law prohibits gun ownership for those convicted of various crimes in New Hampshire, "any other state, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico or any territory of possession of the United States."

State Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, said he would be willing to sponsor a bill in the next legislative session to address the law's language.

"It looks like we need to do something like that," he said. "As a member of the joint committee on legislative and administrative rules, I know that we're very careful to make sure that whatever an agency does is actually authorized in statute."

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