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Lawmakers propose alcohol to-go for restaurants and bars

Posted at 5:19 AM, May 27, 2020

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan lawmakers are working to legalize adding alcoholic beverages to bars, restaurants, and distilleries' takeout menus.

Under current state law those businesses with a specially designated merchant license can only sell packaged beer and wine to go.

Green Dot Stables in East Lansing is well known for their sliders, but their specialty drinks get a lot of attraction too.

"We have 6 or 8 cocktails that we do, they're three dollars," said General Manager Matt Rudd.

They reopen for takeout on Thursday and like many restaurants are feeling the strain from the state's restrictions. Profits are way down.

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association is estimating of the 8,500 businesses licensed to sell alcohol in the state, almost 30-40% of them may never open again.

"The restaurant and bar business has just been decimated by this shutdown," said Scott Ellis, Executive Director Michigan Licensed Beverage Association. "As far as survival goes they're running out of cash. There is no cash left and they need everything they can right now."

Now a few Michigan lawmakers are jumping at the chance to change that. A group of Michigan Senators and Representatives introduced three separate bills that would allow takeout alcoholic drinks and public consumption in designated areas.

"We want to give to these businesses a lifeline. We want to make sure that their whole menu is open for customers so that they can survive during this time," said Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor).

Cities would decide whether to allow designated drinking areas or not. There would be strict guidelines on packaging and labeling. The business logo would also have to be visible on the container.

"You could take example the 500 block of East Shiawassee that could be shutdown where people can walk from Lansing Brewing to Michigrain Distillery and if they open it all the way up to Michigan Avenue people can walk from all the way there and have that whole entertainment district," said Ellis.

Senate Bill 938, Senate Bill 939, and House Bill 5781 are sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans.

"There is some bipartisan support for this. I think all of us have our ears to the ground for our bars and restaurants, hearing from them who are saying we want to survive this," said Irwin.

Sen. Irwin is calling what the pandemic has done to the state, the 'coronapocolypse'.

"In the wake of what we're dealing with this pandemic there's a lot of folks that want to have that nice dinning experience but are a little bit wary of going into and sitting down in a crowed place," said Irwin.

If passed, specific rules would be sorted out by the liquor control commission. Green Dot Stables says they would be on board if it makes it that far.

"I think it would be great to kind of incentivize people to come to the area. Even if we are doing takeout or curbside pickup, you can grab some food, a cocktail, you could sit in the grass," said Rudd.

There is the question about how the controls will work and what's to prevent someone from drinking and hopping in their car.

"We expect that responsible adults are going to enjoy their alcoholic beverage responsibly. We're always going to have problems with people who can't seem to follow those rules and we're going to need to enforce the rules just like we always have," said Irwin.

All of the bills would amend the Liquor Control Code of 1998 and first need to be reviewed by the regulatory reform committees.

Governor Whitmer has not yet weighed in on the idea.

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