Last Call Would Come Later Under N.H. Legislation

Concord — Last call at New Hampshire bars would be extended one hour to 2 a.m. with legislation that cleared the House of Representatives yesterday.

New Hampshire is one of only three states that require establishments to stop serving alcohol as early as 1 a.m.

Supporters noted 22 states with later closing times have lower rates of alcohol-related crashes.

The amended bill (HB 573) would enforce the 1 a.m. shutoff in any city where the board of alderman, or town where voters, insisted on the earlier time.

“Our earlier closing hours aren’t buying us any protection.” said Rep. Emily Sandblade, R-Manchester. “This would give these towns a chance to rollback the closing hours to 1 a.m., and we felt that was very appropriate,” Sandblade said.

But opponents noted New Hampshire ranks first in the nation for teens and young adults, 12-20, who have used alcohol illegally and third in the U.S. for teen binge drinking.

“The more time someone has to consume alcohol the more alcohol that would be consumed,” said Rep. Judith Spang, D-Durham.

Law enforcement leaders, emergency room workers and the State Liquor Commission oppose the change, said Rep. Ruth Heden, D-Milford.

“These are the people working in the front lines who understand what the challenges are. Do we want to make their jobs more difficult?” Heden asked rhetorically. “This bill is poor public policy.”

The 189-123 vote sends the bill over to the State Senate where it faces an uncertain fate given no senators co-authored the bill and it hasn’t come before the body in recent years.

Gov. Maggie Hassan is studying the bill and has taken no position on it to this point, said the governor’s communications director Marc Goldberg.

Sandblade maintains many of New Hampshire’s young people, such as University of New Hampshire students, go to bars in Maine and other neighboring states that stay open longer.

“Unfortunately this state’s size and geography works very much against the goal of limiting under-aged consumption and impaired driving,” Sandblade said.

Rep. Leigh Webb, D-Franklin, said the bill would be better if cities and towns had to “opt in” to the later closing date rather than have to take an affirmative vote to reject it.

“That would make this truly enabling legislation which I believe would be more appropriate,” Webb said.