Boston’s Effort to Extend Last Call Hits Snag
It appears Boston may need to take another legislative path if it wants to expand the hours of operation for its bars and restaurants.
A bill on Beacon Hill that aimed to give communities serviced by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority the authority to set their own hours of operations for bars and restaurants has lost its key backer.
State Sen. William Brownsberger wants the legislature to not act on his bill and instead reset the effort on giving cities and towns the authority to set their own last call hours with a more local focus. In an interview on Thursday, Brownsberger told Boston that he thinks the current legislation is far too broad as the MBTA services a massive chunk of Massachusetts.
“The way the legislation is worded right now is it gives cities and towns a blank check to write the closing hours they want for bars. None of those municipalities want that authority. It seems clear the bill should be a home rule petition and not apply to all communities. It should be based on a consensus between the mayor and the city council,” said Brownsberger.
State House News Service reported on Wednesday that Brownsberger told the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure his new position on the legislation.
The Belmont Democrat, who also represents parts of the Back Bay, Brighton, and Fenway, told Boston that the only community to come forward and support this idea was Boston. For him, the lack of support from other communities means the legislation in its current form goes too far.
“Many people in these communities would not welcome this legislation,” said Brownsberger.
The effort to expand the city’s hours of operation is part of a broader effort to improve Boston’s business climate by Mayor Marty Walsh. Brownsberger praised Walsh for his efforts to streamline and improve the city’s permitting process.
“The mayor is making good progress on trying to streamline permitting,” acknowledged Brownsberger.
Still, Brownsberger said, the city probably needs to do this just for itself through what’s known as a home rule petition, where the city council and mayor craft legislation and file it on Beacon Hill through a sponsor. Boston used the process in 2013 and 2014 to expand the number of liquor licenses the city is able to issue to bars and restaurants.
“The way the legislation is drafted, it applies to all communities served by the MBTA. Other communities may not be aware of this. Boston is the only community to back this,” said Brownsberger.
Additionally, Brownsberger said the communities he represents appear to be strongly divided on whether or not to expand hours of operation at bars and restaurants.
“I think what’s needed is some consensus within the city of boston as to what an extended hours plan would look like. The feedback I’ve got from constituents is very divided. The extent I have heard from bars and restaurants—there is no consensus. Some owners fear that they would not be in a position to get extended hours while competitors would. This is something for the city to sort out on its own,” said Brownsberger.
According to sources on the Boston City Council, there is no effort afoot to pass a home rule petition that would give the city authority over last call hours. Currently, all bars and restaurants in Massachusetts have to close at 1 or 2 a.m., per state law. No communities have the authority to extend hours of operation.