By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- With a showdown taking shape between the House and Senate over liquor licensing, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he had no problem with Boston being governed by a different set of rules than every other city and town as long as Boston regains control of its licensing board.
The Senate on Tuesday passed an economic development bill that would eliminate the cap on liquor licenses statewide and lay out guidelines for municipalities to control licensing rather than forcing communities to petition the Legislature for new licenses. An amendment adopted during debate created a different set of rules for Boston.
The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Thomas Kennedy of Brockton, would transfer the power to appoint members to the Boston Licensing Board from the governor to the mayor and give Boston an additional 150 liquor licenses over the next three years as a trial of the new arrangement.
"Because they're getting control of their board for the first time and the appointees may not have a lot of experience, some Boston folks might be eager and anxious to open the floodgates right away and have a glut of new licenses that might devalue the existing licenses," Kennedy told the News Service, indicating that the issue could be revisited in a few years.
Walsh said "the most important" thing to him is to get control of the licensing board. Having argued that liquor licensing can be a critical tool to revitalizing neighborhoods with new restaurants and bars, Walsh said he wants to be sure those on the licensing board have the best interests of the city in mind.
"I have no problem. One hundred and fifty licenses is, right now, more than enough of what we need in Boston so I'm grateful to the Senate for their action and the House has been supportive as well," Walsh said.
While the House did not include any liquor licensing reforms in its economic development package, Walsh said a separate bill was being considered in the House that would give Boston additional licenses above its current cap.
That bill (H 3913) was filed by Rep. Russell Holmes, and the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure has been given extra time, until July 8, to issue its report.
The Senate also adopted language in the economic development bill that was dropped as part of the final compromise with the House over the fiscal 2015 budget that would allow bars located along late-night MBTA routes to stay open later.
"We all know that Boston has a bad reputation of being a sleepy little village after 10 o'clock at night and when the mayor expressed a desire to see it stay open a huge cheer went up," said Kennedy, the sponsor of the late-night amendment.
Kennedy said it would be up to local officials to decide how late a bar could remain open, but his desire is for public transportation to available whenever the bars close.
"The purpose of the late-night hours is to make sure we have safe transportation for the patrons to and fro, mostly fro," Kennedy said. "I would hope any licensing boards reviewing this would make that a major priority."
Walsh said he hasn't given up on convincing his former House colleagues that extended operating hours for bars and restaurants will be good for the city's economy and tourism. "I'm going to work on it now. I'm going to work harder than I did the last time," Walsh said.
Sen. Brian Joyce, of Milton, also successfully sponsored an amendment that eliminated the transferability of liquor licenses, requiring that once the holder of a license decides to give up their establishment the license revert to the local licensing board rather than to the new owner.
Joyce called it a "common sense" proposal that gives power back to cities and towns to make decisions about who receives liquor licenses. Holders of existing liquor licenses would be grandfathered from the change.
The fate of the Senate liquor licensing changes will likely rest with a six-member conference committee that has yet to be appointed. If the Senate proposals do not prevail, stakeholders in the ongoing debate will have a handle on where some reforms stand in that branch heading into the 2015-2016 session.