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March 21. 2013 11:27AM

NH House passes bill allowing bars to remain open until 2 a.m.

CONCORD -- Legislation passed by the New Hampshire House to the state Senate on Thursday allows pubs, restaurants and other "on-premises liquor licencees" to remain open until 2 a.m., unless the local community objects.

Under House Bill 575, if a local ordinance prohibits closing times later than 1 a.m., the local ordinance prevails.

But supporters of the bill said that allowing an extra hour of liquor sales aligns the closing hours in New Hampshire with surrounding states, will prevent young people from driving further from other states perhaps under the influence of alcohol and will generate more rooms and meals tax revenue.

Under the bill, business owners who violate the state law banning the sale of alcohol to underage or inebriated people will not be allowed to remain open for the extra hour of operation. That penalty would remain in effect for three years.

The bill had been recommended for passage on an 11-8 vote of the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee. Those who opposed it said it sends a wrong message to the state's youth.

According to the committee minority, "New Hampshire is first in the nation in alcohol use by 12 to 20 year olds (34 percent) and third in the nation in binge drinking (22 percent)."
Rep. Ruth Heden, D-Milford, arguing against the bill, said New Hampshire "should be proud that we are one of just three state that closes its pubs at 1 a.m.

"Are you ever out driving at one in the morning? Are your children or your grandchildren?" asked Heden.

"If you are out there at 1 or 2 driving, are you thinking about drunk drivers?" said Heden.

She said "law enforcement, ambulance attendees, nurses, our college" all oppose the bill.

"Do we want to make their jobs more difficult?" she asked.

But Rep. Emily Sandblade R-Manchester, people it's easy for people to drive to Massachusetts to drink alcohol for an extra hour.

As a small state, it is a short drive to a neighboring state, Sandblade said.

"Size matters," she said. "This state's size and geography works against the goal of limiting underage consumption.

"And our earlier closing hours aren't buying us any special protection."

She said the current 1 a.m. closing time "is probably responsible for a higher rate of accidents" as people drive a further distance home after a night out."



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