California’s 4 A.M. Last Call Bill 86’d for Now

Public health & safety grassroots advocacy trumps nightlife industry’s push for greater profit.

CAPA and AJ advocates celebrate the deferral of the late last call billSAN FRANCISCO, CA (September 22, 2017) – California Alcohol Policy Alliance (CAPA), and Alcohol Justice are breathing a hard-fought sigh of relief as the 2017 California legislative session draws to a close because at least one bill was notably, and mercifully, absent—the 4 A.M. Bar Bill.

State Sen. Scott Wiener's SB 384 was a dangerous piece of legislation that would have striped away the standard protections of a normal 2 a.m. closing time. But by the time the bill hit the Assembly floor it had been completely gutted and recast as a bill seeking to reform the state sex offender registry. All reference to the hazardous, entertainment-industry-backed assault on public health and safety laws was gone. It appears that for at least a few more years, bars will close at their normal time.

Even for a bill that seemed destined to be the apple of Big Alcohol’s eye, SB 384 was shrouded in controversy. A resurrection of a failed bill from 2013, SB 384 drew the ire of local health, prevention, and recovery groups as well as MADD and law enforcement organizations that rallied at every opportunity to express strong opposition. They drew the attention and support of a steadily growing chorus of elected representatives, determined to call out the damage their constituents would suffer from an ostensible “local control” bill. Their voices were heard.

Then there were SB 384 supporters’ missteps. Sen. Wiener (D-San Francisco) first tried to compare the opportunity to party late to the struggle of African American communities, appropriating the slogan “Night Life Matters.” He then reinforced the tone deaf approach with red-herring arguments that a 4 a.m. last call could’ve prevented the Ghost Ship tragedy.

With the help of shoddy science and a flurry of amendments that were hidden from the public until well after the bill was voted on, Wiener ushered SB 384 through the State Senate and the Assembly GO Committee. However, it would go no further as the 4 A.M. Bar Bill.

“While Senator Wiener did a masterful job in the Senate at pulling the wool over his colleagues’ eyes, he ran into the truth in the Assembly Appropriations Committee,” said Jorge Castillo, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Drug and Alcohol Policy Alliance. “His denial of peer reviewed research on increasing alcohol-related harm and his constant crowing about the virtually worthless ‘local control’ process were finally challenged.”

The end came in two steps. First, the bill was held up in the Assembly Appropriations committee. The committee had real concerns over its projected costs—both in terms of government spending and lives lost—and dramatically reshaped it into a task force intended to study the long-term effects of state-sanctioned early-morning drinking.

“Smart minds prevailed … in the Assembly Appropriations Committee as SB 384 was gutted, and gutted well for very good reasons,” said Richard Zaldivar, Executive Director of The Wall Las Memorias Project and Chair of CAPA. “That bill was bad for California residents, their public health, and public safety. The people of California won.”

Next, possibly alarmed by what a new task force could find, or possibly deciding he had more urgent legislative priorities, Sen. Wiener then withdrew all alcohol-related language from the bill (he later told the San Francisco Chronicle, “There is nothing to study”); the gutted-and-amended SB 384, now addressing problems with the sex offender registry, passed both chambers.

Unfortunately, the end for the bill this year does not mean the end for the struggle to contain alcohol harm. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, Wiener said he was, “…not giving up on this bill. We are going to bring the bill back next year and limit it only to cities… that want the ability to make the change.” According to Wiener those cities are San Francisco, West Hollywood, Long Beach, Oakland, and Sacramento.

“That’s just ridiculous,” said Bruce Lee Livingston, Executive Director/CEO of Alcohol Justice. “California cities aren’t islands. Dangerous driving, assault, fatigue, and health problems will have no problems crossing city limits into every neighboring community.”

In those respects, then, Sen. Wiener is partially right: in this era of rampant deregulation, Alcohol Justice and the California Alcohol Policy Alliance do not need a new study to know they need to fight to keep common-sense public health protections in place, including a uniform, normal, statewide 2 a.m. last call.

Senate Fails California, Passes Last-Call Bill; Time to Rally the Assembly

because more of people falling in the street is exactly what California needsIn a senseless and short-sighted 27-9 vote, the California State Senate approved SB 384, the bill that would keep bars open to 4 a.m. and undermine public safety across the state. The vote came just days after the Senate Appropriations Committee agreed, following closed-door meetings, to release the bill despite the millions in state costs it would incur. Now it is up to the citizens of California to make their Assembly members stand up and stop the bill.

“The Senate should be embarrassed that they let this bill even make it to floor,” said Michael Scippa, Alcohol Justice Public Affairs Director, “let alone that they passed it.”

Extending last call times pose a number of hazards to public well-being. First and foremost, they extend drinking times and bring the most intoxicated people together in close proximity. This leads to increases in incapacitated drivers, crashes, violence, and victimization, as well as noise, nuisance, and property damage in the neighborhoods near late-closing bars.

More subtly, it stresses the resource of ERs, medics, and law enforcement personnel, who now have to spend more time dealing with the aftermath of drinking with no time to reset. It burnishes the tax coffers of urban areas willing to extend hours while severely impacting small suburban municipalities with damage and fatalities “party commuters” driving home. And with workaday commuters traveling ever longer hours, it sends impaired drivers headlong into rush hour traffic.

Most insidious, however, is the fact that this bill really only creates a major boon for large nightlife promoters while creating a pressure for smaller bars to stay open whether or not they want to. By stripping a simple and sensible public health regulation—one that has stood for decades without any substantive complaints—California shows a willingness to crumple to the slightest pressure from wealthy lobbies even while public health services are constantly cut.

The Senate may have failed in its duty to represent the interests of California citizens, but the fate of SB 384 is far from determined. “The Senate may have ignored science and common sense,” Mr. Scippa said, “but there is still time for the grown-ups in the room to act.”

Alcohol Justice urges concerned Californians to contact their member of the Assembly and make it clear how 4 a.m. last call times hurt the community. California needs politicians to stand up against alcohol money and preserve public health and safety.

TAKE ACTION to contact your member of the Assembly and tell them to Stop 384.

READ MORE about the moral bankruptcy and manipulative cynicism behind SB 384.

READ MORE about the harms from extending last call times.

Major UK/Australian Report Confirms: Nothing Good Happens After Midnight

Restricting access to alcohol—including limiting hours of sale—changes both the physical access and the psychology of alcohol use, researchers say.

Cover graphic for the FARE/IAS report on alcohol access best practices

The United States faces constant erosion of alcohol access policies thanks to the political influence of the alcohol industry. American legislators are not alone in facing this soft-power onslaught. In 2005, England and Wales allowed 24-hour liquor sale licenses, a dramatic change from their previous 11 p.m. last-call times. Meanwhile, the Australian parliament is spinning its wheels trying to enact liquor law reforms, with most meaningful legislation coming at the local level. A powerful new joint report from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) lays out some straightforward and effective access policies for Australia and the UK. These policies do not just set a practical standard for alcohol regulation in those countries, they encompass a set of best practices for all regulators worldwide.

FARE/IAS make the important case that alcohol access restrictions' power do not derive from denying alcohol to interested purchasers. Instead, they change the context of alcohol use. If customers have to go to a specific store to buy liquor, as opposed to purchasing gin along with their Cheerios, it both reduces impulse purchases (and consequently impulse use) and creates a psychological firewall that can reduce overall drinking. Moreover, access laws meant to address one alcohol harm often bleed over on to others. The report notes that policies meant to address intoxicated driving also seem to depress domestic violence—the awareness of drinking as potentially dangerous inspires self-control.

With this in mind, the authors recommend certain forms of alcohol sale limitations as "best buys," including:

  • ending the sales of alcohol for off-site consumption at 10 p.m.
  • ending sales for on-site consumption at midnight
  • stronger regulation and monitoring of off-site sales, including "quarantining" alcohol away from other food products
  • improve community access to regulators and licensing bodies
  • requiring alcohol license applicants responsible for proving their business will cause minimal harm, rather than having to wait until harm occurs to pull a license
  • replacing industry-designed and industry-sponsored voluntary "regulations" with evidence-based policies

The report also includes a scorecard of existing policies throughout Australia and the UK, grading policies on body of evidence for effectiveness, resource intensiveness, and ease of institution. As the authors point out, the answers are there, if politicians will just show the will to embrace them.

Congress Plans $321 Giveaway to Big Alcohol

The Reverse Friar TuckPolitical junkies are already familiar with the term “reverse Robin Hood,” wherein fiscal policy seems to take money from the poor and give it to the rich. A bill currently before Congress, S. 236 / H.R. 747, elaborates on that theme with a “reverse Friar Tuck,” wherein those profits go to the richest alcohol companies at the expense of American citizens who have been impacted by drinking.

Alcohol Justice has detailed elsewhere how S. 236 / H.R. 747, aka the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA), hides behind the lie of fostering small business growth. In fact, the benefits to small brewers and distillers are nominal. A new AJ report, however, gives dollar estimates of the industry giveaways. Among the most egregious fiscal giveaways:

• At least $321 million of lost revenue.
• $50 million to 7 “craft” brewers that produce over 2 million barrels annually.
• $128 million to distillers producing over 100,000 proof-gallons—250% more than distillers under 100,000 proof-gallons receive.
• $18 million lost in undermining a tax break meant to reward makers of lower ABV wines.
• An extension of credits meant for small wineries to those producing up to 620,000 gallons of wine.

“This dishonest federal measure is being portrayed as an incentive for small craft brewers,” said Bruce Lee Livingston, Executive Director/CEO of Alcohol Justice. “But the real winners are the largest beer and spirits producers in a race to cut their already ridiculously low tax rates.”

As significant as they are, these figures reflect only the giveaways for domestic alcohol production. Further language guts the government's ability to tax imports. Alcohol Justice has prepared a preliminary report on the financial impact of the CBMTRA, but has only scratched the surface. The organization urges everyone concerned with promoting public health to oppose this bill and stand up for public health.

TAKE ACTION to tell Congress to pick public health over Big Alcohol.

READ MORE about Alcohol Justice’s stand against S. 236 / H.R. 747.

READ MORE about the costs of this bill and the opportunities for charge-for-harm it takes away.