House OKs bill that would push bar closures to 4 a.m.

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan House on Thursday approved legislation that would allow communities to push the deadline for bar closures from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Berman, R-Commerce Township, allows a city, village or township to push bar closures to 4 a.m. by adopting a resolution. It passed the House in a 61-47 vote.

Even if enacted immediately, the bill's effect likely would be delayed by epidemic orders from the state Department of Health and Human Services, which currently cap restaurant and bar capacity at 50% as well as set a curfew of 11 p.m.

The looser bar closure still needs to pass the Senate and gain Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's signature. 

The House passed similar legislation last year but it never advanced to a vote by the full Senate. 

Under the legislation the Michigan Liquor Control Commission would be able to levy $250 annual renewal fees for bars that would like to stay open until 4 a.m. The commission is not required to issue a late-night permit to every establishment that applies for one. 

Berman has said the allowance will provide bars and restaurants with extra cash after months of operating under pandemic restrictions. 

Bar manager Kristy R. Cook prepares a drink at Central Kitchen restaurant in Detroit on Friday,  Jan. 22, 2021,

The city of Detroit and Michigan Licensed Beverage Association expressed support for the bill.

For Detroit, the extended hours offer an outlet to folks working later shifts, such as hospital workers, performance artists or DJs. The 4 a.m. curfew also allows the city to offer hours comparable to other large cities like New York and Chicago, said Adrian Tonon, 24-hour economy ambassador for the City of Detroit. 

Statistics also suggest an increased presence on streets and street corners can curb crime, he said. 

"It gives the city that international allure that creates jobs for Detroit residents and visitors to come as well," Tonon said. "In a post-pandemic world, it means a lot to these businesses to have these extra hours not only to survive but to strive.”

But it was opposed by several alcohol addiction groups, liquor stores, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission and police agencies, including the Michigan Sheriffs' Association and the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

The liquor control commission would only say it was opposed "as a matter of public health and safety."

The Michigan Sheriffs' Association said it isn't exactly opposed to a 4 a.m. close time. But law enforcement is worried about what the patchwork of closure times will have on drunken driving, envisioning people leaving one community at 2 a.m. to drive to a bar in a neighboring community with a 4 a.m. close time, said Matt Saxton, executive director for the Michigan Sheriff Association. 

"It pushes that issue where we might get more people driving drunk knowing that one community is open until 4 a.m.," Saxton said. 

About 55% of fatal crashes involving drunken drivers happen between midnight and 3 a.m., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Officials are concerned the change in hours would shift the timing of the crashes, increase injuries related to the crashes 11% and affect early morning commuters, according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis of the bill. 

Similar bills introduced in the past have restricted late night hours to weekends or certain downtown or resort areas, according to the House analysis. Other bills also have included a sunset or expiration by which the allowance would expire in order to give officials time to study the effects of the legislation.

Last year, a Senate committee set a three-year sunset for the bill but the amended legislation never was put to a full Senate vote.