Boston College law students drafted a bill to reverse the 1984 happy hour ban in Massachusetts, but it is stalled in “purgatory” after being sent for further study in the state legislature.
“It’s going to stay in purgatory forever until we drive interest, start a grassroots kind of activism, and get people to recognize the power they have in a democracy to use their voices for what matters,” Jordan Michelson, a co-author of the bill and BC Law ’22, said.
BC Law students—Michelson, Maxwell Black, James Hendren, and Thomas Charpentier—wrote and co-sponsored Bill S.169 to oppose the 38-year-old ban. Emily Smith, a BC Law student, and Evan Michelson also co-sponsored the bill.
Massachusetts Senator William Brownsberger presented the bill, titled An Act Concerning Restoring Happy Hour to the Commonwealth, to the state legislature.
The Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure sent the bill to further study, halting the bill’s progress after it did not collect enough signatures to appear on voters’ ballots in December.
“The bill has been presented before the MA House of Representatives, and we have learned how lengthy a process this is,” Charpentier, BC Law ’22, said. “As far as I know it is still making its way through the legislature, waiting to sing its story on capitol hill in schoolhouse rock.”
The original goal of the bill was to develop a commission to further analyze the views of the Boston community surrounding the happy hour ban, Charpentier said.
“This seemed more constructive and strategically ‘safe’ to getting the ban removed, as it would give any final bill the breathing room it needs to incorporate concerns of the community,” he said in an email.
According to Charpentier, the ban needs to be reexamined, as its premise is outdated.
“Concerns of the community are the core foundation of the ban itself,” Charpentier said. “It was put in place as a reactionary measure to a tragedy, has not been reexamined with changing times, and is completely out of touch with the realities of rideshare-based transportation.”
Michelson said the original law responded to drunk driving accidents in Massachusetts.
“The ban was passed at the height of the drunk driving era,” Michelson said. “There weren’t seat belts in cars, people didn’t think twice about getting behind the wheel, 18 was the drinking age, and there were a number of accidents that were high profile.”
Paulo Barrozo, an associate professor at BC Law, said the original law was intended to curb drunk driving accidents.
“What it basically prohibited was promotions that discounted the price per unit of alcoholic beverages or the use of alcohol as prizes and other promotions,” he said.
Michelson said new restrictions on drinking and the implementation of “dram shop” laws—which makes bars potentially liable in cases of drunk driving—render the happy hour ban obsolete.
“[Massachusetts] had the best of intentions [with the ban],” he said. “This was really our contribution to the national conversation, and it didn’t work. That’s okay. Other things worked. Drunk driving is way down. People are way more educated. And not everything you do has to work every time and forever. Times change and policies change.”
According to Charpentier, the 1984 ban is both too extreme and too broad, as it does not actually address overdrinking and drunk driving.
“The real problems are overserving and personal self-control or judgment,” Charpentier said. “The ban is an objective standard that is easier to administer than policing individual behavior, but is not addressing the actual problem.”
Charpentier explained that this bill could also help businesses in Massachusetts recover from financial losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Coming out of a pandemic this is something the public sorely needs,” Charpentier said. “Additionally, having happy hour reduces capacity loads on businesses by having incentives for patrons to arrive at non-peak times, which helps for covid-capacity restrictions.”
According to Charpentier, the bill would help customers save money, business owners increase their volume and revenue, and the state get more tax revenue.
Since Massachusetts was the first state to place a ban on happy hour, Carpentier said, it is less likely to want to repeal it.
“Massachusetts still has deep Puritan roots, this thinking along with the background of the ban being first enacted [in Massachusetts], means things take a long time to change,” Charpentier said. “While the data supports repealing the ban, these roots and fear make lawmakers reticent to change anything,” Charpentier said.
The debate surrounding this ban demonstrates how Massachusetts politics relies on reasoned arguments supported by data and principles, Barrozo said.
“Far from perfect as it is, this approach is something we must support and cultivate,” Barrozo said. “Debates such as this one about the so-called ‘happy hour ban’ provide a good ground for the practice of data and principle-driven policy analysis.”
Michelson said this is an issue all BC students can take initiative on.
“Check out our website, call your local politician, if you’re a voter figure out who your local rep is, your house of representatives, and state senator,” he said. “You can really cause change, right now, right here. And if you’re 21 or when you turn 21, you can go into a bar, order a $5 Bud Light, and say, ‘Wow, this isn’t $9 because of me.’”
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