FRANKFORT — State lawmakers appear ready this year to approve a bill that would allow nearby neighbors to determine if many state parks and golf courses could sell alcohol.
House Bill 475, which won unanimous approval Tuesday by a Senate committee, would allow residents in precincts where there are state park lodges or golf courses to petition for an election to determine whether the park or golf course could sell alcoholic beverages by the drink.
Most state parks and golf courses now are in "dry" counties, where alcohol is not sold. Under the bill, the precinct that contains the park could go "wet" while the rest of the county remains "dry."
Similar rules for local-option alcohol referendums already are in place for some private golf courses and historic sites in the state.
The sponsor of the bill, House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, has been trying for years to allow alcoholic beverage sales in state parks. He said after the committee meeting that his measure "is going to pass this session."
"I've talked to Senate leadership before I filed the bill and they concurred that we could pass it," said Clark, D-Louisville.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he supports the bill and believes a majority in the Senate will approve it.
"I think it will give our parks a competitive advantage," Stivers said.
The House approved the bill 65-30 on March 10. It now goes to the full Senate for its consideration.
Clark said the bill would generate much-needed revenue for state parks.
"This is a way to enhance the state parks, especially by soliciting more conventions, retreats and attracting more people in the off-season, and is a way to control alcohol at the state parks," he said. "We all know it's already there whether we like it or not."
Kentucky has 17 resort parks with dining areas and 15 recreational parks with golf courses.
Alcohol by the drink is now sold at four of the resort parks — General Butler, Jenny Wiley, Lake Barkley and Pine Mountain — and three stand-alone golf courses — John James Audubon, Mineral Mound and My Old Kentucky Home. All are in wet areas.
Gil Lawson, a spokesman for the state parks department, said gross alcoholic beverage sales for the parks and golf courses in fiscal year 2012 was $179,704, up from $175,451 in fiscal year 2013.
State Parks Commissioner Elaine Walker did not have a ready figure Tuesday on how much money alcoholic beverage sales at other state parks and golf courses could generate, but she said it would be substantial.
A 2009 study said Kentucky could generate more than $4.5 million a year if it sold alcoholic beverages at its state parks.
Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers' Association, said his group is "fully supportive" of Clark's bill.
"We think it only makes sense, especially with the bourbon boom in Kentucky," said Gregory. "Many tourists are coming to Kentucky because of our Bourbon Trail and would like to stay at parks that serve alcohol by the drink."
Opponents of the bill said it would harm the safe atmosphere at state parks.
"It's a very bad bill," said Donald Cole, executive director of the Kentucky League on Alcohol and Gambling Problems. "It would disrupt the family-friendly environment at state parks. I don't like the bill but I realize it's going to be hard to defeat it this year."
There have been no problems at any of the state parks or golf courses that have been selling alcoholic beverages, Walker told lawmakers Tuesday.
"We train our staff," she said. "We are very adamant about not pushing alcohol. We will continue being cautious."
Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation, said his group would prefer that Clark's bill require a county-wide vote, which would allow input from all those who might be impacted by the decision to allow alcohol sales.