BOSTON (State House News Service) – Supporters of reinstating happy hour in Massachusetts haven't had much cause to raise a glass recently.
In December, voters lost the chance to weigh in on whether the state should overturn its decades-long ban on discount drink promotions, when petitioners behind a proposed 2022 ballot question did not submit enough signatures to advance to the next step in the process.
Wednesday's bill reporting deadline dealt another blow to the effort. The Committee for Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure ordered further study on both a bill (S 169) seeking to overturn the state's 1984 happy hour ban and a Rep. Mike Connolly bill (H 4135) that would create a commission to review and evaluate happy-hour policies.
Sending a bill to study effectively kills it, and many of the thousands of bills filed each session meet their ends inside study orders.
Beacon Hill has rejected previous efforts to revive happy hour, including in the 2011 casino gambling law. The happy-hour ban was first implemented after a series of deadly crashes involving drivers under the influence of alcohol, and supporters of reconsidering the prohibition have pointed to a shift in public sentiment around drunken-driving in the past 38 years and the advent of additional transportation options like ride-hail apps.
Last summer, a MassInc Polling Group poll found that 70 percent of Massachusetts residents would support revival of happy hour specials for alcoholic beverages.
Gov. Charlie Baker said in July, after the poll was released, that he would be "hard-pressed" to support any proposal to bring back the drink specials, voicing concern they could lead to a spike in drunken-driving incidents.
"I remember what was going on the roads in Massachusetts when we had happy hours, and there were some awful, horrible, terrible experiences on a very regular basis that came with happy hours back in the day," Baker said at the time "I know that probably makes me a stick in the mud to say such a thing, but I would start as a skeptic of going back to the way we ran happy hours."
The happy-hour bill, according to its text, was written by Boston College Law School students and uses language from a similar measure that passed in Illinois in 2015.
"Restoring Happy Hour to the Commonwealth will support local businesses, shift patronage of bars and restaurants toward low-density hours, and benefit the public morale," the bill said, describing Massachusetts as one of the last states with such a ban.
Connolly's bill, which also proposed COVID-19 relief measures for restaurants and bars, would bring lawmakers, local business representatives, and groups including the Massachusetts Restaurant Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving together to evaluate state and federal laws on discounted alcoholic beverages, "particularly" those in Illinois.
The commission would also have been tasked with looking at "how changes to the Massachusetts laws might aid restaurants and bars in their economic recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic" and how any changes would be implemented "with a primary focus on public safety."
Written by Katie Lannan, State House News Service