Hotel bar bill falls short of serving state

In many places across the nation, during the early morning tranquility of pre-rush hour, a few leftover patrons are ushered out of bars for closing time – but not in Minnesota. Promptly at 1 a.m., if not 15 minutes earlier, bouncers begin shouting at patrons packed into bars across the state who grow uneasy and agitated as they are rustled out into the awaiting night. For years, Minnesotans, students in particular, have been boisterous in their calls to change the law requiring bars to close at 1 a.m., hoping to get the more widely accepted standard of 2 a.m. or even later. In fact, Minnesota is one of only three states that require bars to close so early.

Now this long-contested law is finally getting a facelift. University drinking spots such as the Library or the Cabooze still won’t be able to stay open any later, but the Holiday Inn right next to the Cabooze will. The state Senate Commerce Committee has approved a bill, S.F. 709, that will allow hotels in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington and Duluth to stay open until 2 a.m. on weekdays and 2:30 a.m. on weekends. The bill, proposed by Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, and backed by the Greater Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association, is intended to draw more money from out-of-state visitors by updating our drinking laws to appeal to convention planners. “This is something we can do to help the convention trade,” Higgins said.

Greg Ortale, president of the Greater Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association, said the bill is not for local residents but for conventioneers and business travelers.

And that’s the problem – it’s not intended for state residents, but instead visitors who aren’t supposed to have representation in our state government. This Senate is looking to pass a law intended to benefit only out-of-state citizens, apparently turning a deaf ear to the perennial requests of its own constituents.

Essentially, this bill is a slap in the face to all Minnesotans and students who have been asking for later hours at bars, but it’s also our Trojan horse. Already, the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association is calling for a blanket extension to 2 a.m. across the state. As well they should, because drinkers will head to the Radisson or the Holiday Inn where they can drink until 2 a.m., creating huge losses for the bars not associated with a hotel.

This undoubtedly will evoke an outcry of wrongdoing from places serving alcoholic beverages and will lead to heavy lobbying for a statewide extension of closing time. After all, the bill will give a huge advantage to hotel bars that, despite the wishes of state senators, probably won’t require an out-of-state license at the door.

Once again, voters have been shown to be of lesser concern to government than lobbyists, but at least in this case we still win.