By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA - A group of residents from Buffalo Terrace Hill, a senior living facility in Kalispell, want the ability to drink alcoholic beverages in their home, they told the House Business and Labor Committee Thursday.

House Bill 430 would make that possible by allowing senior living facilities to apply for liquor licenses.

In his opening statements, Rep. Adam Hertz, R-Missoula, jokingly called the bill the “Make Retirement Homes Great Again Act of 2017.” But these seniors, some nearing 90 years old, didn’t think this was a joke.

Currently, retirement facility residents are able to bring in alcohol of their own and drink it at will, but that’s not what’s missing for them.

Lois McClaren said she remembers having friends over for dinner and drinks. Even though she can still do that, she said it’s hard to get downtown to buy those beverages.

She said she enjoys the living facility, but misses being able to easily provide drinks for her guests.

“Now we can have them in for dinner, but they would have to have their drink before they came or we would have to find some way to go downtown and buy whatever we thought they wanted and bring it back to our apartment,” McClaren said.

McClaren said her storage drawers are now filled with fabric instead of adult beverages.

John Iverson, lobbyist for Montana Tavern Association, opposed the bill and said he’s worried about mixing alcohol with an older population like the one at the facility in Kalispell.

“There is a very good chance that a lot of these people are on pharmacologicals that are going to be negatively impacted by alcohol,” Iverson said.

Other opponents of the bill said along with liquor licenses comes heavy regulation on establishments. Iverson said that with the passage of this bill, residents of senior living facilities will be restricted to bringing their own beverages into the main dining hall.

“They’d actually lose the privilege they currently have,” Iverson said. “They would have to purchase that alcohol from that facility.”

Hertz said Montana law already provides exemptions for resorts, and these living facilities would fall under similar exemptions.

“Really this is, in many ways, an all-inclusive resort for retired people, so I think that’s a really good comparison that that license already exists,” Hertz said.

Jean Tyser is also a resident of Buffalo Hill Terrace and said she never sees other residents abusing alcohol on the premises.

“I don’t drink a lot. I don’t care what you do, but I think you ought to have the right to live like you want to,” Tyser said.

This was the House Business and Labor’s first hearing on the bill.

Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.