The State Senate has passed a bill to add requirements to the liquor licensing process. It's a mixed bag, and reason for concern. The Assembly will consider it next.
If passed by the State Assembly, the State Liquor Authority would necessarily consider the public convenience and advantage of the license, and would necessarily determine that the license is in the public interest before awarding a license.
So far so good. But the "public interest" is no longer tied to "the community." So the public interest would include, for example, state revenue from liquor, or commerce generally beyond the community's local benefit.
The current law considers the "public interest of the community." Deleting those three words allows a revenue-starved government to bypass community concerns. And once a bar strip is installed, it doesn't disappear when the recession ends and the government no longer needs its revenue. The strip remains, displacing local commercial diversity, local services and community character.
Scroll down to see the exact language of the bill. Its first line is a step advancing towards commercial diversity and community protection. The last line, unfortunately, voids it.
The law has always had a list of "public convenience and advantage" clauses, but they were optional considerations. This bill changes the "public convenience and advantage" clauses from
"may consider any or all"
"SHALL consider ALL"
problems of noise, traffic, density of bars, among others.
The bill still does not define the public interest, and weakens it by deleting "of the community." So the public interest loophole remains in this bill, and now it's even wider.
Almost anything might be in the public interest. For example, if the bar includes a toilet, the success of the bar might be in the public interest, since the public might use the toilet, say, to vomit in, the public having drunk too much liquor at the bar.
More typically, bars argue that the jobs they create are in the public interest. Even more pertinently for the State, the SLA might find that the license renewal fee itself might be in the public interest since that money goes to the government, and the government by definition is, of course, the public interest.
It is impracticable to list every instance of public interest relative to each context. In a depressed neighborhood, jobs might be in the public interest. But in a blue-collar family neighborhood near local workplaces, nightlife might not be the optimal replacement for those local workplaces.
In a recession, government desperately needs revenue and, since nightlife survives a recession better than almost any business, the government may consider liquor licenses very much desirable as a revenue flow, despite no local community interest is served.
So this bill is a mixed bag and there's work to be done. Here's the bill itself. I've highlighted the important changed clauses in red [brackets in brown are the old law being deleted, UPPER CASE red are new words]:
6-a. The authority [may] SHALL consider [any or] all of the following
in determining whether public convenience and advantage and the public
interest will be promoted by the granting of [licenses and permits for
the sale of alcoholic beverages at a particular unlicensed location] A
LICENSE PURSUANT TO THIS SECTION:
(a) [The] THE number, classes and character of licenses in proximity
to the location and in the particular municipality or subdivision there-
(b) [Evidence] EVIDENCE that all necessary licenses and permits have
been obtained from the state and all other governing bodies[.];
(c) [Effect] EFFECT of the grant of the license on vehicular traffic
and parking in proximity to the location[.];
(d) [The] THE existing noise level at the location and any increase in
noise level that would be generated by the proposed premises[.];
(e) [The] THE history of liquor violations and reported criminal
activity at the proposed premises[.]; AND
(f) [Any] ANY other factors specified by law or regulation that are
relevant to determine the public convenience and advantage [and public
interest of the community] AND NECESSARY TO FIND THAT THE GRANTING OF
SUCH LICENSE SHALL BE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST.