1895 law still keeps alcohol out of Capitol
CARSON CITY – In a state where licentiousness seems to have no boundaries, and where a former prostitute can run for Congress, it seems odd that tipping a cold one in the Capitol Building could send you to jail for at least a month with a fine of up to $500.
Yet supporters of Assembly Bill 14 in the 17th legislative session in 1895 made alcohol illegal in the State Capitol Building “for the benefit of the rising generation and in the interest of good morals, decency and all that is respectable and commendable.”
Today, Nevada is best known for its tolerance of vices – prostitution, gambling, smoking and drinking are rife throughout the Silver State.
But not at the state’s Capitol Building.
A law signed by Gov. John E. Jones on Feb. 25, 1895 prohibits the sale of ardent spirits in the State Capitol Building.
The bill, sponsored by Lyon County Assemblyman J.I. Wilson and heavily supported by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, was directed at eliminating a bar operated in the Capitol by an Assembly Sergeant at Arms named Flannery.
The law is still enforced at the Capitol today. Richard Urey, press secretary for Gov. Bob Miller, said Miller supports the continued ban on the use of alcoholic beverages on state property.
Newspapers of the day dubbed the law the “Anti Well Bill” and called Flannery’s office “the grog shop.” Most of the arguments for and against the bill took place as the bill made its way through the Assembly.
The bill passed the Assembly triumphantly with a 26-3 vote, but not without a struggle. On its third reading, the bill failed with an 11-11 vote.
In reporting on the previous day’s proceedings, reporter Alfred Doten, in the Feb. 6, 1895 edition of the Nevada State Journal, said, “Today the Assembly failed to pass the bill to abolish Sergeant-at-Arms Flannery’s whisky corner in the State Capitol. They were evenly divided and by consulting the report you can see who stands by his regular grog and who don’t.”
The bill passed the Assembly Feb. 8, 1895, after it was amended from taking effect immediately to taking effect after April 1, 1895.
The bill passed the Senate Feb. 20, 1895 with little debate and was signed by the governor Feb. 25.
Arguments by legislators, reported by Doten, called operation of a bar in the halls of the Legislature illegal and an outrage against the community and a disgrace to the state.
Assembly Speaker S.L. McNaughton of Esmeralda County spoke in support of the bill, said Doten’s Feb. 6 report. “He had been long and well acquainted with Sergeant-at-Arms Flannery, in whose room or office the liquor is being sold, and in fact he had drunk from the ‘well’ himself. He was in favor of doing justice by all in this matter regardless of personal favor or friendship. In fact, allowing the sale of liquor in this building was an injustice to the businessmen of the city, who have to pay license for the transaction of legitimate business.”
Another of Doten’s articles, from Feb. 21 after the Senate’s passage, reported Sen. Sardis Summerfield, a Democrat from Washoe County, as being in support of the bill.
“Summerfield eloquently spoke in favor of the bill in view of the idea that women’s suffrage was likely to prevail and it would not be in good form for the noble Senators and Senatresses of the future sessions to be confronted at the very entrance to the halls of legislation by a grog shop.”
By 1918, the continued efforts of the temperance union succeeded in outlawing the consumption of alcohol in Nevada. In 1919, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed prohibiting the manufacture, import, export and sale of alcoholic beverages. This remained in effect until 1933 when the 21st Amendment was passed, repealing Prohibition.
Women were granted the right to vote in Nevada in 1914 and in the United States in 1920.
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