Update on November 4, 2015 — Summary Position and Hearing Notice
I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to comment here or to contact me by email or phone about his legislation. This is a local bill and, especially on local issues, I am heavily guided by the expressed preferences of my constituents.
From all the feedback we have received, it is clear that opinion is divided on the issue of extending bar hours, both among the public in Boston and among my colleagues who represent Boston. It is also clear that there are a number of possible approaches to how to roll out extended hours.
This legislation was filed for the City of Boston, although it is worded broadly to apply to other municipalities. The legislation gives little structure to the extension of hours and regulatory streamlining — leaving the issues entirely up to the affected municipalities. Based on the feedback we have received, the wiser course would seem to be for the Mayor and the City Council to work together to develop a more limited approach with broader support within the city. On the foundation of that support, the legislature would be in a position to pass legislation implementing that approach. My recommendation to the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure will be to take no action on the bill.
Formal Hearing is set for November 10 at 1PM in Room A-2 in the State House. If you do wish to testify, it is a good idea to arrive a little early and sign up. Witnesses are usually called more or less in the order that they sign up.
Add-on on December 19, 2015
Pretty much absent from the conversation below was a discussion of the public health impacts of a change in bar hours. Limitation of bar hours is part of the panoply of rules that we have in place to prevent harm from alcohol abuse. When and if this issue is revisited by the City Council or the legislature, we should consider the evidence from other jurisdiction as to whether later bar hours can increase various kinds of harms.
Update on July 14, 2015
I was alerted by a constituent that 24/7 language had been tucked in as Section 205 of the pending draft of the municipal modernization bill. I was able to prevent this from going through without full vetting. Instead, there will be a study of the concept.
I’ve received questions about Senate 127, An Act Modernizing the Business Licensing Process (and the identical House companion bill, House 161).
I was pleased to sponsor this bill for the Mayor, because I think it will help some of the city’s neighborhoods become more vital, while at the same time continuing to allow other neighborhoods to express their preferences for less activity.
The aspect of the bill most likely to raise concerns for people is the provision that would allow a municipality to grant or modify licenses to bars to stay open past two AM. Currently, the statewide alcohol licensing rules prohibit any bar from being open between 2AM and 8AM, regardless of local preferences. The change would permit municipalities inside the MBTA service area to decide to grant later licenses.
On this point, the City has stated:
If this legislation is approved, the City would conduct a public process to determine potential locations for a pilot program to explore whether a post-2 a.m. model works in Boston. Any establishment within a pilot program area that applies for a later closing time would be subject to the same community process that is currently in place for licensees, who wish to modify their liquor license agreement.
The bill is just at an early stage and I look forward to your input. The bill does need vetting and I welcome all concerns. Nothing about it is set in stone. It is tentatively scheduled for an initial public hearing on 11/10/15 at 1:00 p.m. in the statehouse.
Below, please find additional explanation authored by Mayor Walsh’s administration. Thank you to Kaitlin Passararo on the Mayor’s team for providing these materials.
Problem: In an attempt to grow and support our small business community, the City of Boston is committed to streamlining the licensing and permitting process. This process will eliminate duplication and unnecessary steps while also maintaining the robust community process we require in the City of Boston for all business establishments. In many instances, however, State Law prohibits the City from taking innovative steps to reform the regulatory process and makes no distinction between a small business and larger chain establishments. This one-size-fits-all licensing model acts as a hindrance to business development in our neighborhoods.
What Would S.127/H.161 Accomplish?
- Provide local discretion to eliminate certain licenses that are antiquated such as those for bowling alleys and billiard tables. This portion of the legislation also provides discretion to municipalities to waive the live and non-live entertainment licensing requirements for small establishments on a case by case basis, with community input, for such things as background music or having a single performer at a coffee shop. H.127/H.161 is one part of the Mayor’s larger strategy to better support small businesses in the City of Boston. To date, this strategy includes:
- The launch of a new permitting system in October of 2015 that will make the process quicker, easier, and more predictable
- The creation of a separate Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) process for small businesses, doubled the hearing capacity for ZBA applications, which reduced wait times for ZBA hearings by four months
- Making businesses such as art galleries or bakeries (low-impact) allowed uses in the zoning code in all business districts
- Allow municipalities served by the MBTA to allow bars and restaurants to stay open past 2 a.m. should they chose to adopt such a provision. If this legislation is approved, the City would conduct a public process to determine potential locations for a pilot program to explore whether a post-2 a.m. model works in Boston. Any establishment within a pilot program area that applies for a later closing time would be subject to the same community process that is currently in place for licensees, who wish to modify their liquor license agreement.
The Mayor’s office also supplied this Section-by-Section analysis of the bill:
- Section One: Allows municipalities, served by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, to be exempt from the state law that prohibits the sale of alcohol at bars and restaurants between the hours of 2 a.m. and 8 a.m.
- Section Two: Allows municipalities to eliminate the Common Victuallers (CV) license requirement for non-alcohol establishments.
- Section Three: Allows municipalities to eliminate specialty licenses for billiard tables and bowling alleys.
- Section Four: Allows municipalities to eliminate specialty licenses for automatic amusement devices.
- Section Five: Allows municipalities to set a maximum capacity for establishments that charge admission under which live and non- entertainment licenses are not required.
- Section Six: Allows municipalities to set a maximum capacity for food service or alcohol establishments under which live and non- entertainment licenses are not required.
- Section Seven: Allow municipalities to eliminate specialty licenses for fortune tellers.
For more background on the various licenses required in the City (and, implicitly, the motivation for streamlining them) see this explanatory document also prepared by the Walsh administration.