AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage is proposing a bill that would allow bars to stay open an hour later during tourist season.

Currently, restaurants and bars that provide alcohol on premises are allowed to serve patrons until 1 a.m., unless the municipality in which the establishment is located has an ordinance with an earlier last call. Emergency legislation introduced Thursday by the governor would allow drinking establishments to participate in a pilot program that extends last call to 2 a.m. from the time of the bill’s enactment through Oct. 12, which is Columbus Day.

Participation in the extended serving and drinking hours is voluntary for drinking establishments and would only be for the duration of the 2015 tourist season, according to a copy of the legislation.

It’s unclear whether the legislation would let municipalities enforce earlier closing times if they so desired.

“I’m open to the idea,” said Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, and co-chairman of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over liquor laws in Maine. “But I don’t want to mandate it for municipalities.”

Luchini said the proposal may affect local law enforcement if the agencies schedule shifts around bar closing times.


“It may not be a big deal, but I want to hear from them first,” he said.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, who is also the acting city manager, said he just learned of the bill.

Before he makes any recommendations to the City Council, Sauschuck wants to analyze calls for police service that occur after 1 a.m. to assess how a 2 a.m. closing time would affect staffing and expenses in his department. He also is concerned about increased noise complaints.

“Bar closing time (1 a.m.) is traditionally a very busy time for the police department,” Sauschuck said. “To have that occur an hour later could have a negative impact on the folks who are sleeping and for guests at downtown hotels. It could be problematic.”


Administration officials did not comment on the impetus for the proposal. However, the bill’s preamble suggests that it is designed to capitalize on visitors from New York and Massachusetts, which the bill claims represented 40 percent of overnight visitors to Maine in 2014. Last call in those states is 4 a.m. and 2 a.m., respectively, although some localities in New York have the option to continue serving later.


“Maine’s hospitality industry loses opportunities to cater to out-of-state customers accustomed to longer hours of on-premises liquor service and this loss results in fewer sales,” the bill states.

The proposal, L.D. 1436, was submitted as an emergency measure for the 2015 season, meaning it will require two-thirds support of the Legislature and go into effect as soon as it’s signed by the governor. As currently drafted, the bill would automatically be repealed Oct. 12.

As chairman of the Portland City Council’s Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee, which frequently deals with law enforcement issues and police staffing, Councilor Edward Suslovic was concerned that later closings might require more police overtime or more staff.

He also said that downtown Portland and the Old Port district have changed in recent years from a destination to a place where more people live and work.

“My other concern is that we could see an increase in noise complaints. This could mean one less hour of sleep for some people,” Suslovic said of the potential for noise created by bar patrons flooding downtown streets after closing time.

Suslovic said he would be willing to consider extending the closing time for bars and restaurants, but he questioned the timing of the bill.


“Why, this late in the session, do you throw something like this out there?” he asked. “If this proposal were introduced in Portland we’d probably form a task force and study it for six months.

“I think some people would really love this, while others would bitterly oppose it. So it’s an idea that should be discussed, but not rammed through at the end of the session,” he said.


Greg Dugal, president of the Maine Restaurant Association, said some bar owners would likely support the initiative. However, the association has not taken a position on the bill. Dugal said the proposal was worthy of consideration, but worried that its late introduction in the legislative session may make it more difficult to have a full debate.

“I have some members (of the association) that will think this is a good idea, some will think it’s a bad idea and some that will be ambivalent,” he said. “There’s a certain element that exists between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. that may not be conducive to some of their operations.”

Richard Harrera, co-owner of the Old Port Tavern Restaurant on Moulton Street in Portland, doesn’t like the idea of allowing bars and restaurants to remain open until 2 a.m.


“I don’t think Maine needs a later closing,” said Harrera, who used to live in Hawaii, where bars and clubs stayed open until 4 a.m. “Who wants to be up that late?”

Harrera said he would have to beef up his staff and payroll to cover the extra hour. And bar and restaurant workers probably wouldn’t like having to work an extra hour, he said.

“That is a long shift for someone who typically starts working at 5:30 (p.m.),” he said.

The proposal is the latest in a string of late bills submitted by LePage as lawmakers close in on the statutory adjournment date of June 17. Committees were expected to finish their work on bills Friday. However, some committees will likely meet next week, and there’s a chance that the session will be extended beyond the scheduled adjournment.

Luchini, the committee chairman, said there could be a public hearing on the proposal next week, possibly as soon as Tuesday.

The proposal comes two years after LePage initially opposed a bill that allowed bars to open early when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Sunday. The governor eventually signed the bill and tweeted a photo of himself wearing a leprechaun hat.

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