Senate bill would provide membership options for towns and cities – NBC Boston

Nearly four decades after Massachusetts lawmakers banned the practice statewide, happy hour could return to the menu in willing cities and towns if the Senate is successful.

Senators voted late Thursday night to veer an amendment creating a locally-optional happy hour program on their version of a $4.57 billion economic development bill (S 3018), suddenly rekindling the odds of a long-debated idea popular with many consumers who don’t has failed to gain ground on Beacon Hill in the past in part to concerns about drunk driving.

The amendment tabled by Senator Julian Cyr of Truro would allow the legislative body of any city or town to vote to allow the sale of discounted alcoholic beverages in bars and restaurants at specified times, as long as the promotion does not exceed 10 p.m. and is publicly announced. at least three days in advance.

It would represent a major game-changer for the hospitality industry and its customers, opening up access to a business tactic allowed in most other states but banned here since 1984.

Cyr said that in addition to providing a new tool for economic development, he thinks the measure would undo a “not fun Massachusetts complaint” that’s particularly common among younger generations.

“There has been a tradition in Massachusetts of rethinking and moving away from our Puritan values ​​when it comes to alcohol, cannabis,” Cyr told the News Service on Friday. “Although I am lucid about the health risks associated with alcohol or drugs, I think we must also be honest about people’s behavior.”

Language senators added to their economic development bill would not immediately allow all cities and towns to roll out happy hours. Instead, municipalities would have to register through a local vote and could then set their own bylaws, which could vary from community to community.

Cyr said the provision would provide a “level of granularity for local control”. Some cities and towns — especially those whose residents rely more on driving to get around — might not be interested in the discounted drink promotions at all, he said, and others might want to. limit happy hours to off-peak hours.

“You look at Provincetown, we certainly want to keep people out of cars – well, you don’t really have to get in the car and often you don’t get in a car when you’re in Provincetown. You are really able to walk and stay out of your vehicle,” Cyr said. “If you’re in Boston, you have options, whether it’s the T — as long as it doesn’t ignite — or carpool .”

The amendment also calls on the Liquor Control Commission to establish a nine-person advisory group, whose members should include experts in public safety, liquor licensing and distribution, safe driving and operation of restaurants, to help cities and towns set up happy hours.

Cyr was the only lawmaker to speak to the amendment during Thursday’s debate, and senators passed it by an unrecorded vote.

The addition puts a substantial easing, but not an outright lift, of the statewide happy hour ban into the mix as lawmakers near the end of official July 31 sessions. for the term of two years.

The House did not use such language in its version of the bill (H 5007). Senate negotiators will now have to convince House leaders to include it in the final deal that a conference committee will aim to produce.

It’s unclear how top House Democrats will receive the measure. Speaker of the House Ron Mariano said last year he is open to discussing changes to the happy hour ban but stopped short of either supporting or opposing action. A spokesperson for Mariano could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.

In February, a legislative commission effectively boosted stand-alone bills to reverse or review changes to the happy hour ban by ordering them dead-end studies.

Governor Charlie Baker could come across as a more vocal opponent. baker said in July 2021 he would “struggle” to support the revival of discounted drink specials, pointing to the wave of drunk driving fatalities that prompted the 1984 ban.

“I remember what happened on the roads of Massachusetts when we had happy hours, and there were very regular horrible, horrible, terrible experiences that accompanied happy hours back in the day,” Baker said. “I know it probably makes me a stick in the mud to say such a thing, but I would start out being skeptical about how we’ve run happy hours.”

At 36, Cyr has never lived in a Massachusetts that allows happy hours. The Truro Democrat said he believed the climate had changed enough since the 1980s to warrant their return, referring to a 2020 AAA report which revealed the Bay State has the lowest “DUI severity score” in the nation and the recent proliferation of rides available on-demand using services like Uber and Lyft.

“We want to learn from the past and see if we can make happy hour a tool that many other jurisdictions and most other states allow in one way or another,” he said. .

Norman D. Briggs