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Maine lawmakers will face many important issues this year — what to do with an $800 million surplus and other spending decisions, for example. So we realize that extending a change that allows restaurants to sell takeout drinks with takeout orders is not a top priority. However, this bill deserves to be adopted.
Shortly after the start of the pandemic, restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 limited restaurants and bars from taking out orders. To help those affected by the restrictions, lawmakers passed a bill allowing restaurants, bars and distilleries to sell takeout drinks with food orders.
The provision was extended in March but is due to expire in September. Lawmakers are considering legislation to make the law change permanent. They should. We don’t intend to shed light on the worrying increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic, but being able to enjoy a craft cocktail with a takeaway meal has been one of the positives of the pandemic – and it has given significant flexibility to the restaurant industry at a difficult time.
The bill, LD 1751, was sponsored by Democratic Senator Louis Luchini, who recently resigned from the Legislature to take a job with the US Small Business Administration. His work for the federal government created a potential violation of the Hatch Act if he continued to represent Hancock County in the Maine Senate.
Despite Luchini’s resignation, the bill, which went to a public hearing on January 10, remains viable.
“Maine’s hospitality industry has faced tremendous challenges over the past two years, but business owners and employees have adapted to keep their doors open while serving guests safely,” Luchini said. in a press release. “A lot of this has enabled the sale of alcohol to go. I’ve spoken to dozens of bar, restaurant and craft drink business owners over the past year, and many have said that this capacity had kept them afloat.Making this change permanent allows businesses to plan ahead and allows customers who don’t feel comfortable dining out to enjoy a dining experience at home.
During the pandemic, at least 30 states changed their laws to allow restaurants and bars to sell takeout drinks. Fifteen of them made the law change permanent, Gregory R. Mineo, director of Maine’s Bureau of Liquor and Lottery Operations, told the Assembly Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee last week. legislative. Only two states — New York and Pennsylvania — have allowed such a law change to expire.
“While restaurants and bars are less dependent on takeaway alcohol than they were initially, with the current staffing shortages they are experiencing due to the surge of Omicron and it is unclear how much long the pandemic will continue to linger, the Bureau recognizes that alcohol-to-go continues to lend a helping hand to the industry,” Mineo said in testimony.
He added, however, that while the bureau has no evidence of issues with the nearly 300 licensed establishments offering take-out cocktails, the bureau does not have enough staff to ensure compliance with state laws. on alcohols. To be clear, establishments selling drinks to underage Mainers would be breaking the law, as would businesses delivering alcohol ordered online without confirming the identity and age of the recipient.
We hear the concerns raised by public health advocates against LD 1751. Nationally, there has been a significant increase in alcohol sales during the pandemic. There has also been a disturbing increase in reported binge drinking. However, there is no data to link these increases to the sale of alcoholic beverages with take-out orders from restaurants, rather than an increase in alcohol sales in liquor stores, grocery stores and convenience stores. The trade association of many of these stores and distributors opposes a permanent extension of the Take-Away Drinks Act.
Continuing to allow take-out drinks won’t change the world. But it will continue to allow Mainers to buy drinks with their takeout dinners, while giving restaurants and bars a little boost.