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Lansing — A Michigan House committee advanced Wednesday two bills that would allow restaurants to provide alcoholic drinks through takeout or delivery as well as create “social districts” where people could take drinks ordered from a restaurant. 

The bipartisan package passed 15-0 through the House Regulatory Reform Committee and would address restaurant and bar complaints about Michigan laws that have prevented the selling of cocktails alongside other takeout offerings. 

It also brings Michigan law in line with the need to hold more dining options outdoors to lessen COVID-19 spread, industry officials and supporters argued. 

The bills still need approval from the full House of Representatives before moving to the Senate, where similar legislation is being considered.

“Following the outbreak of COVID-19, we must think outside the box in order to keep Michigan residents safe while giving our local small businesses every opportunity to be successful,” said Rep. Michael Webber, R-Rochester Hills, who sponsored the social district bill.

As of May 19, 18 states passed laws allowing restaurants to deliver alcohol for off-premise consumption and  33 states allow carryout of alcohol, said Rep. Sara Anthony, D-Lansing, who sponsored the cocktail carryout bill. 

"These policy changes are trending across the country as state legislators enact similar support for the hospitality industry,” Anthony said.

Testimony on the legislation came as downtown development authorities, restaurant groups and restaurant owners expressed support for the measures amid the industry's downturn during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The owner of Michigan’s HopCat locations disclosed during the hearing he was in default at several of his restaurant locations and had been evicted from his Royal Oak location following a 100% decline in profits. 

"It’s as bad as you can imagine," said Mark Sellers, founder of BarFly Ventures, the parent company of HopCat, Stella’s Lounge and Grand Rapids Brewing Co. “...We’re essentially barely able to keep the lights on.”

The package would allow local governments to designate social districts with outdoor common areas where people could drink alcohol from area restaurants. 

Drinks taken to the common area would have to be served in non-glass containers with a clear logo indicating the restaurant and the common area, according to the legislation. Drinks could not be taken into another restaurant other than the one it was bought in. 

Restaurants and bars would need to obtain $250 permits similar to their on-premise liquor licenses to use a social district.

The containers holding takeout or delivery cocktails should be sealed and labeled with information about the seller, the contents and brand name of the liquor. For deliveries, the person dropping off the liquor would need to verify the individual receiving it is 21 years old.  

eleblanc@detroitnews.com 

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