March 12, 2013

St. Patrick's Day early-opening bill stalls in Maine House

Republicans say the bill, which would allow bars to open three hours earlier this Sunday, is representative of Democrats' misplaced legislative priorities.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA – A bill that would allow bars to open three hours earlier this St. Patrick's Day failed to advance on Tuesday.

click image to enlarge

In this Saturday, March 17, 2012 file photo, Carrie Mahoney and her neighbor, Lisa Henderson, enjoy the view of the Sy. Patrick's Day Parade from the second story window of Brian Boru in Portland. A bill that would allow bars to open three hours earlier this St. Patrick's Day failed to advance on Tuesday, March 12, 2013.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, would lift the state's ban on sales of alcohol between 6 and 9 a.m. on Sundays when St. Patrick's Day falls on a Sunday, as it does this year.

The bill was up for an enactment vote Tuesday, but fell short of the two-thirds support it needed to be enacted as an emergency measure in the House of Representatives.

Democratic leaders then tabled the bill, which won't get another enactment vote until Thursday. The tabling was paired with a motion by House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, to take a roll call vote -- a step often taken to ensure that individual lawmakers' positions on a bill get recorded.

The bill, L.D. 216, received unanimous approval in committee and preliminary votes in the House and Senate. But it has been ensnared by a political standoff between Democrats and Republican leaders, who have said the bill is representative of the Democratic majority's misplaced legislative priorities.

It's also endangered by Gov. Paul LePage's vow to veto any bill that hits his desk before the Legislature passes his plan to repay Maine's hospitals $484 million in backlogged Medicaid reimbursement.

Bar owners and the Maine Restaurant Association have fought for the bill's passage with strong public statements. Dick Grotton, CEO of the restaurant association, told the Portland Press Herald last week that his members want lawmakers to vote on the issue so restaurants know whom to blame if it fails.

The move by Democratic leadership to seek a roll call may grant the restaurant association members their wish. But time is running out to pass the bill in time for Sunday's holiday.

If lawmakers pass the bill on Thursday and LePage vetoes it, there will be no time for the Legislature to override the veto. It takes 10 days for a bill to become law without the governor's signature -- too late for the proposal to take effect by Sunday.

The bill could take effect in time if lawmakers enact it Thursday and LePage signs it early enough to allow it to receive a chapter number.

Hobbins, the bill's sponsor, offered an amendment to strip the emergency provision. If that version passes, bar owners and their customers will benefit on March 17, 2019, the next time St. Patrick's Day falls on a Sunday.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

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