New legislation to close bars in the state by 2 a.m. could cost Juneau taverns thousands of dollars annually in lost income, according to some local bar owners.
But Rep. Scott Ogan says his bill could save lives.
The Palmer Republican introduced the measure Friday, saying current state law, which allows communities to set their own hours for local bars, is a "recipe for disaster" because bar patrons in one jurisdiction will drink until closing time, then drive to a neighboring town to take advantage of later bar hours. Ogan said some taverns stay open until 5 a.m., the closing time required under current state law for businesses outside municipal jurisdiction.
"All this does is put people on the road after several more hours of drinking," Ogan said. "When the bars close at 5 a.m., they drive (back) to Anchorage and they're on the road with the first (morning) commuters."
Local law requires Juneau bars to close by 1 a.m. weekdays, and 3 a.m. weekends. Under Ogan's bill, people who go to Juneau bars Friday and Saturday nights would have to leave an hour earlier, at 2 a.m. The issue of driving to another jurisdiction is not relevant here, since all Juneau bars are subject to the 1 and 3 a.m. limits.
The measure would hurt area taverns during the busiest evening shift, said Rendezvous owner Robert Schroth, who said he makes most of his night sales on weekends between midnight and 3 a.m.
"That would definitely cut into all the bars that do business at those hours, no question about it," Schroth said.
Marlintini's Lounge owner Ethan Billings said he sometimes grosses $1,000 in that last hour of business.
The bill "could be disastrous for a small business guy who employs 30 people and has a great record, and that's our situation," said Billings, who argued the Legislature should let municipalities determine closing hours. "(Lawmakers) have to take into account who it affects statewide - it's the small guy."
The owner of Dreamland Lounge, at Tabby's Restaurant, echoed the concern.
"A lot of bars ... count on Fridays and Saturdays to make up for the other slow days. It would hurt," said owner Bob Harris, who added the city also would collect less money from the 0.08 sales tax on alcohol if the measure passed.
But Ogan said closing Juneau bars an hour earlier could protect some people from assault. He said assault and domestic violence reports in Southcentral Alaska spike between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., and he argued people who stay out later drinking are more likely to go home and beat up their spouses.
"I think ... there are people who get done drinking at 3, then come home and hit their wives pretty hard. I've ridden with the troopers on all-night shifts and that's when the (domestic violence) happens," Ogan said.
Juneau police Capt. Tom Porter said although Juneau hasn't experienced a large spike in assaults and domestic violence between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., police have seen increases in accidents that could be alcohol related. He said the idea of closing local bars earlier is "something worth considering."
"People (would) have less legal time to drink in Alaska," Porter said. "That could have a positive effect on the drinking problems."
Kathy Dye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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