AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would allow bars and restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages at 6 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day when the holiday falls on a Sunday, as it does this year, easily passed the House and Senate on Thursday morning. Gov. Paul LePage signed it into law Friday morning.
“Mainers know that I am a man of my word. But I am always open to reasonable suggestions,” LePage said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “I’m pleased to sign this bill as a gesture of goodwill and as a supporter of Maine’s fine establishments that wish to open earlier on St. Patrick’s Day.”
LePage pledged as recently as Wednesday to veto the measure, calling it “garbage” in a television interview.
The measure passed 105-32 in the House and 29-6 in the Senate in votes Thursday morning. Since the measure attracted more than two-thirds support in both chambers and LePage’s signature, it can take effect immediately — in time for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations this Sunday.
John Dobbs, owner of Paddy Murphy’s in downtown Bangor, said the law will allow his bar to continue a tradition. The Irish bar and restaurant opened for business at 6 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day in 2007.
“We usually have a line out the door, and we fill right up and we are full by 6:30,” he said. “It’s such a big, big day for all of us. It’s big for my distributors. I buy so many kegs of beer. If I can’t open for three hours, then I’m buying less.”
Dobbs said live music will start at 6 a.m. sharp Sunday. The early hours tend to attract an elderly crowd along with people coming off early shifts at work.
Up the street at Geaghan’s Pub, the ability to serve alcohol at 6 a.m. is important, but not as big a deal as it is at some other bars, said Andy Geaghan, a manager at the Irish pub.
“For us, selling alcohol at 6 a.m. or 9 a.m. doesn’t make or break our day,” he said. “We’ve been planning St. Paddy’s Day for months now. We’ve been planning St. Paddy’s Day since last St. Paddy’s Day.”
Geaghan’s opens at 7 a.m. seven days a week, and plans to open at 7 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day. The only thing that will change Sunday is that the bar will be able to start pouring Guiness two hours earlier.
What’s more important, Geaghan said, is another bill pending in the Legislature that would allow alcohol sales to start at 5 a.m. seven days a week.
“For someone who has a different lifestyle or a different occupation that has them awake and ready to go at 5 in the morning, I definitely think they should be able to have a beer,” Geaghan said. “I think this passing [the law] for St. Paddy’s Day is, perhaps, a catalyst for a bigger step in the right direction.”
The St. Patrick’s Day bill allows an exception to the state law that bars the sale of alcohol before 9 a.m. Sundays. The measure was on track for easy passage until it was swept into a political fight surrounding LePage’s proposal to repay the state’s $484 million debt to its hospitals using future proceeds from a renegotiated state wholesale liquor contract.
While political leaders this week said the resolution of the St. Patrick’s Day bill was a result of bipartisan cooperation, the leader of the Christian Civic League of Maine said he was disappointed by the passage of legislation that expanded access to alchohol.
“All the hand wringing about our state’s drug and alcohol problem (not to mention domestic violence) seems very disingenuous with the eagerness and energy exhibited in passing LD 216,” the league’s director, Carroll Conley, said in a statement released Friday afternoon. “What are we saying to our young people when we pass, as emergency legislation, a law promoting the consumption of alcohol at the break of dawn?”
Owners of Irish pubs requested the change in law so they could serve alcohol for three additional hours on their busiest day of the year.
The Senate on Thursday also unanimously signed off on two bills that now go to LePage: An Act to Allow the Maine Potato Board to Have Access to Information Regarding the Potato Tax and An Act to Abolish the Trustees of Public Cemeteries for the City of Waterville.