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NH debates bill to delay last visit to bars to 2 a.m

CONCORD — A bill to eventually extend New Hampshire's Last Call will make the state's nightlife less “sleepy,” supporters of the law said at a hearing Tuesday.

House Bill 1227, sponsored by Rep. Jessica Grill, D-Manchester, would allow on-premises licensees to sell alcohol an hour later than they currently do, moving it from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. It would also allow cities and towns to delay the closing time from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. if decided by ordinance or warrant.

Rep. Jared Sullivan, D-Bethlehem, said his efforts to convince one of his best friends to move to New Hampshire failed because they felt the state was “too slow and quiet.” Instead, they moved to Providence, Rhode Island.

“We can all see the demographic issues that are occurring in New Hampshire. We have the second oldest population, we are one of the fastest aging populations,” Sullivan said. “I think that’s one of the things that makes New Hampshire more attractive to younger people.”

Currently, New Hampshire is one of ten states that ban the serving of alcohol after 1 a.m

Tuesday's public hearing took place before the Senate Commerce Committee. The bill has already passed the House of Representatives and will be voted on by the full Senate at a date to be determined.

The bill will not only make New Hampshire more attractive to young people and tourists, but will also put more control in the hands of local communities and businesses, Grill said.

New Hampshire State Police Capt. Steve Sloper said the bill would “obviously pose a risk to public safety.”

“These proposed alcohol service hours may lead to an increase in alcohol-related stunts such as drunk driving, violence and public disorder,” Sloper said. “This also places a significant burden on law enforcement agencies, who we already know are under significant pressure due to staffing shortages.”

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Grill said she doesn't believe the bill would negatively impact communities. No one is allowed to drive under the influence of alcohol, no matter what time of day or night, and there are many ways to get home safely using ride-sharing apps or taxis.

Mike Somers, president of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, said a survey of its members showed about 60% opposed the bill. He also raised concerns about another bill, HB 279, which would increase overprovision penalties by 300%. The two bills together, he said, did not form a “synonymous message.”

Restaurant and bar owners recently surveyed in Portsmouth were divided over the possible extension of opening hours. Some said it would bring in more revenue, while others didn't want to change the status quo. On Tuesday, committee members noted that no business owners had signed up to testify on the bill.

Anna Harden

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