Md. Senate gives preliminary OK to extending alcohol delivery option

Bryan P. Sears//March 19, 2021

Md. Senate gives preliminary OK to extending alcohol delivery option

By Bryan P. Sears

//March 19, 2021

Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev has raised its takeover bid for SABMiller to 70.4 billion pounds ($108.2 billion) Monday, Oct. 12, 2015 in its latest effort to win backing for its plan to create “the first truly global beer company.” (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
Maryland legislators are considering extending the ability of some restaurants to deliver alcoholic beverages, which they have been allowed to do under Gov. Larry Hogan’s coronavirus emergency order. AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

ANNAPOLIS — A proposal to extend an executive order that has helped some restaurants in Maryland remain in business has sparked a public policy debate over whether alcoholic beverages should continue to be available for delivery when the pandemic ends.

The debate underscores the state’s sometimes contentious approach to issues related to alcohol sales that date back to Prohibition. Senate President Bill Ferguson said care is in order when considering the extension of an initial order from Gov. Larry Hogan that has helped save some bars and restaurants.

“I am cautious about the long-term extension of this,” said Ferguson Friday. “If you have an area with highly concentrated liquor licenses and you have off-premise sales of what shouldn’t be open containers but can quickly become open containers, the question we have to ask ourselves is do we want Maryland to be a place after the pandemic where we can create a Bourbon Street environment in residential areas.”

Last year, as the pandemic forced the shutdown of many businesses and reduced bars and restaurants to carryout and delivery only, Hogan issued an executive order allowing those businesses to provide alcoholic beverages with those orders.

“These restaurants were literally shut down,” said Sen. Marybeth Carozza, R-Eastern Shore. “They only had an option for carryout. The governor’s executive order allowing restaurants to sell off-premises alcohol with food and carryout orders has been an absolute lifeline to restaurants across the state of Maryland and also for the employees in those restaurants.”

Hogan’s order expires when he lifts the state of emergency. A bill sponsored by Sen. Shelly Hettleman, D-Baltimore County, would extend that authorization when the state of emergency ends to June 30, 2023. Counties would have the ability to opt in for the extension, and businesses that continue to deliver alcohol would have to use delivery drivers who are 21 or older.

The Senate gave preliminary approval Friday night and put the bill on track to send to the House after adopting an amendment proposed by Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties. Rosapepe’s amendment requires the Maryland Department of Health to conduct a study on health impact of expanding access to alcohol. That report is required to be delivered to the General Assembly by end of next year.

Rosapepe said that while he has taken advantage of the ability to order alcoholic beverages with his carryout meals, an extension by legislation is a bad idea.

“I have grave concerns about the whole bill,” said Rosapepe, who represents an area that includes College Park.

“This is not a dispute between protecting public health and helping restaurants,” he said. “We can do both those.”

Topping Rosapepe’s concerns are worries that an increase in access to alcohol would lead to more binge drinking on campuses, increases in drunken driving and domestic violence and sexual assault.

“I’m not Carrie Nation on this issue,” said Rosapepe. “I say follow the science.”

Sen. Ben Kramer, D-Montgomery and an opponent of other alcohol bills, including recently passed laws increasing the amount of beer small breweries can sell for off premises consumption, sees a more nefarious angle.

“The alcohol industry’s appetite will never be satiated. Never,” said Kramer. “This industry is too big, too powerful, and they will always be knocking on the door of this legislature to expand and create greater opportunity to push their product on our residents.”

Kramer said lawmakers are “far too casual about how we treat alcohol in our state” and that once this extension is granted it will be hard to take away.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s and chair of the Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, disputed Kramer’s claims, saying  the bill pits two opposing sides of the industry — liquor stores, distributors versus restaurants — against each other.

“The package stores and distributors, they’re not real excited about this because they’re afraid they’ll lose business to the restaurants,” said Pinsky. “So in two years, my guess is they come back and call all of us to say end the darn thing.”

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