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Fri January 31, 2014
Lawmakers Debate Bar Closing Hours
Communities across Colorado could soon decide whether to extend bar hours beyond the current 2 am closing time. But some feel a statehouse proposal to change the law could do more harm than good.
Under the bill cities and towns could allow bars to stay open as late as 4:30 in the morning. Supporters - say the 2 am closing time is dangerous because it dumps thousands of people into the streets and behind the wheel at the same time...
“It’s more difficult for law enforcement to monitor those crowds, this could help monitor individuals who are driving away from the area,” said Representative Crisanta Duran (D- Denver).
Duran says her bill would allow for staggered closings - meaning bars in some places and cities would close at 2, others at 3 or 4:30. Mark Berzins owns the Little Pub Company, a franchise of bars in the Denver area including lower downtown. He supports the proposal and says staying open later would spread out the times when people would leave, making it easier for instance to catch cabs.
“I experience the fallout mainly in the form of taxi service. I’m the parent of four kids, I have a couple of teenagers that drive and I worry all the time about drinking and driving,” said Berzins. “It’s really hard to give lip service - get a safe ride home and then you have patrons who can’t get a ride home. I guarantee 95% of them get in the car and drive home.”
Originally the bill would have allowed cities and towns to extend closing times to as late as 7 am or roll back the hours. Sonia Riggs is with the Colorado Restaurant Association. She says shortening bar hours would be devastating to the restaurant industry
“For those hours to be reduced after significant investments could force restaurants to shut down,” said Riggs.
But public support was mixed at Wednesday's hearing. Ramona Martinez lives in downtown Denver. She she’s used to hearing sirens blare between 1 and 2 in the morning.
“We accept that because we chose to live in the downtown area.” Said Martinez.
In her mind, extending bar hours would only make the problem worse.
“Extending hours makes no sense because we don’t want to hear sirens, us old folks like to get up we don’t want to encounter people coming out of those establishments,” said Martinez.
Lawmakers also had questions about the additional hours.
“If we have staggered times, are we looking at bar hopping when drunks are on the road?” said Representative Tim Dore (R-Elizabeth). “What’s to say the problem won’t just be pushed to 4:30 am? Is there some study that says people stop drinking earlier in the morning?”
He was the only lawmaker on the house local government committee to vote against the bill. Dore thinks longer drinking hours will simply lead to more DUIs - and doesn’t believe massive crowds exiting bars at the same time is a statewide problem.
“This is really a Denver issue. We’re being asked to be Denver city council members. I’m not hearing concerns from other areas of the state,” said Dore.
While cities and towns support the bill they say they’d prefer even more local control that would also allow for restricting hours. Several committee members said they weren’t sold on extending bar times, but they did feel it should be a local decision. The measure now heads to the full house floor for debate. If the bill is approved and signed by the Governor, bill sponsor Representative Duran says she’s not sure how many Colorado communities would change closing times.