Senator says time not right for added flexibility of bar hours

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STATE HOUSE — The backer of a bill that would give Greater Boston-area bars the ability to stay open past 2 a.m. after obtaining local permission told fellow lawmakers Tuesday that the time is not right to extend last call later into the night.

“My view is that this is something we should not act on in this session,” Sen. William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat whose district includes the Boston neighborhoods of Back Bay, Fenway and Brighton, told the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. “We should give the city time to give it further study. We should give it some further study, but in fact, it’s just not ready for primetime as a concept.”

Citing a lack of consensus in Boston and “a bunch” of unresolved issues, Brownsberger asked the committee not to take action on a bill he filed (S 127) to update certain aspects of business licensing laws in the state.

The bill seeks to give cities and towns discretion to eliminate specialty licenses for billiard tables, bowling alleys, automatic amusement devices and fortune tellers, as well as to set maximum capacity levels under which entertainment licenses are not required.

It would also allow municipalities within the MBTA service area to set their own closing hours for bars and restaurants, potentially allowing them to continue serving past the current 2 a.m. cutoff.

“That’s very controversial within Boston,” Brownsberger said. “A lot of people view it as anathema, some people are very enthusiastic about it.”

The committee also heard dueling perspectives on the bill from Boston residents .

Allston-Brighton resident Paul Berkeley said people in his neighborhood were concerned that the legislation was too broad in allowing up to 24-hour operation of bars.

“We really didn’t understand the reason for so many communities being included in this bill,” he said.

Naveh Halperin, a full-time musician and street performer, said his music is aimed at Boston’s nightlife community and the 2 a.m. closing time gives him a very narrow window to perform. He also praised the bill’s goal of giving municipalities the option to waive entertainment licensing requirements for small establishments.

“Basically, a lot of local musicians are struggling to find jobs, gigs, because we’re forced to depend on bars and clubs, mostly because those are usually the go-to for live performances,” Halperin said. “This bill would allow more creativity, more flexibility, in where musicians and artists could perform.”

Though the bill was worded to apply to multiple communities, it was filed for the city of Boston, Brownsberger said. The bill, cosponsored by Boston Reps. Russell Holmes, Daniel Hunt, and Daniel Ryan, was included in Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s 2015-2016 legislative agenda, where its provisions were described as changes that would “further the Mayor’s goals of streamlining the regulatory process and strengthening small businesses citywide.”

— Written by Katie Lannan

Copyright State House News Service