Last call on bar closing times

The State Legislature is considering allowing bars to stay open later. Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, said they should be allowed to do business until 2 a.m., as they do in Wisconsin. But as the closing time debate continues again this year at the Legislature, lawmakers should go a step further. They should consider eliminating bar closing times altogether.

There are real economic benefits in eliminating closing time. Police officers would no longer be bogged down by tedious establishment inspections. Bars would be able to better serve their customers and would not lose business to bars in neighboring states such as Wisconsin. There are also social benefits. Current restrictions are a puritan relic that puts a damper on the night scene and imply that people need the state to mandate a bedtime and limit their alcohol intake.

Organizations, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, argue that extended bar times would mean more drunken driving deaths, increased alcohol consumption and violent assaults. To be sure, public health and safety must be the primary consideration on this issue. However, eliminating bar times could be, in fact, in the interest of public health. Patrons would have time to sober up before leaving, instead of being forced out at a certain time. Also, with patrons leaving at staggered times, after-bar fights could decline. The benefits of diffuse departure times caused England to support a 24-hour permit policy.

Even if Minnesota expunges bar closing times, establishments would still be subject to local ordinance and zoning laws. Local governments could determine closing times suitable for their area. For cost reasons, many bars would decline to stay open later. But the abolishment of bar closing time restriction would be a welcome benefit to Minnesota’s economy and nightlife. Prohibition did not work in the 1920s, and early-hour prohibition certainly does not benefit Minnesota now.