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OC Interview with State Senator John Lim

During his eight years as a state senator, John Lim has kept a close eye on the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Lim talks with the Oregon Commentator about a troublesome state agency that breaks the laws it purports to enforce.

By Andrew Adams

One of the most influential state senators in Salem, John Lim is an outspoken proponent to reform how the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) operates both how they operate their sting operations and levy fines.

As the state senator for the 11th District, Lim feels that the OLCC should try harder to educate store owners about selling alcohol to minors and change the way stores who do sell to minors are fined. Another issue Lim has with the OLCC is their use of minors in sting operations designed to nab store owners who break Oregon's strict liquor laws.

Contacted by telephone at his Portland office Lim spoke out strongly against the OLCC's tactic of using young people to catch store owners with lax policies on carding. Underage youth enter stores and attempt to purchase alcohol. If they succeed in doing so, they leave and later return with the police. Lim feels that using underage kids to catch delinquent store owners is wrong because the kids break the law to bust the store owners. In Oregon it is illegal for minors to even enter a liquor store, and like any state it's illegal for them to buy alchohol.

Speaking out against the OLCC's use of minors in sting operations Lim said, "I don't believe they should use underage kids. It is illegal using a minor. They break the law to get the law breakers."

Lim added he does not want the entire program scrapped, but just wants to make sure that the OLCC uses people who are of age in their sting operations. Not only does Lim argue that sting operations violate state law when they use minors, he also feels it enters into a Constitutional debate too. This debate could also remain in the courts for quite time before being settled Lim acknowledged.

The process a store goes through after being caught in a sting operation should be changed in Lim's opinion. The senator even drafted the senate bill 115 during the last session to alter how stores are fined and in what amounts. While the bill passed in both houses of the legislature Governor Kitzhaber vetoed the bill.

Not only would Lim like to see changes in the fine system he would like to see more people held responsible. Currently when a store is caught selling alcohol to minors, only the owners are penalized. Lim's bill would have held all parties involved responsible. "When we penalize selling beer and wine to minors, the penalty goes to the owners, not to the clerks who sold the alcohol to the minors or the minors who bought it. They all should be jointly held responsible," Lim said.

In addition to changing the current fine system, Lim argued that store owners should be educated more on the problems related with underage drinking. He views part of the problem with stores selling alcohol to those younger than 21 as partly due to some owners inexperience with dealing with the OLCC.

Lim said that many of the store owners penalized for selling liquor to minors are new to the country, and do not have a good enough grasp of English to totally understand Oregon's liquor laws.

Yet one more problem Lim had with the OLCC other than sting operations is how the OLCC gives out liquor licenses to almost anyone.

"They [the OLCC] give liquor licenses to anyone with a clean record. Even to a store which is right around the corner from another liquor store," Lim said.

This handing out of liquor licenses willy-nilly in Lim's opinion increased the chance that through fierce competition a mom and pop corner store would be more inclined to sell booze to a minor. Selling liquor to minors because a store could not compete totally defeats the purpose of the OLCC Lim argued.

"They are the control commission. They should control. If they can't, they shouldn't exist," Lim said.

In all Lim had mixed emotions with the OLCC. He felt that they did do a service for the state of Oregon in that they made several million dollars for the state, but at the same time, it has cost the state millions because Oregonians pay some of the highest prices for booze in the country. Lim went so far as to say that Nevada and California border towns have a "booming business" from Oregonians who cross state lines to avoid the high prices of liquor in this state. Essentially Lim would like to see the OLCC reformed to the point where it still provides its services for the state, but does not break the law in the process.

Andrew Adams, a sophomore majoring in Journalism, is Managing Editor for the Oregon Commentator