The Honorable Paul R. Feeney, Senate Chair
The Honorable Tacky Chan, House Chair
Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure
State House, Boston

Dear Chair Feeney, Chair Chan, and Committee Members,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is pleased to offer testimony in strong support of H. 334 and S. 142, An Act Providing Municipal Control of Liquor Licenses, before the Committee for public hearing today.

Over the past five years, the Legislature has approved more than 150 home rule petitions to provide additional liquor licenses to cities and towns. These licenses have served to aid development projects and various other efforts to stimulate local economies and to bring new jobs to Massachusetts. We appreciate your support of these petitions and your continued dedication to aiding cities and towns. The frequency of these requests demonstrates the urgent need for comprehensive legislation to address this issue and return authority to the cities and towns of Massachusetts.

We respectfully ask that you approve H. 334 and S. 142 allowing municipal control of liquor licenses. We believe that the current legislative petition system for obtaining a license above the statutory cap slows and limits economic growth. The process should be modernized to fully embrace local decision-making and allow communities to act in real time to facilitate local economic development. We also appreciate the thoughtfulness of H. 290, An Act Returning Liquor License Control to Municipalities, but prefer the more flexible framework of H. 334 and S. 142.

The current process to secure a liquor license within the statutory quota includes obtaining a Certificate of Good Standing from the Department of Revenue, submitting an application to the Local Licensing Authority and if approved at the local level, approval by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC), a state agency that has the final say on approval. This already-lengthy process provides sufficient review of the application and includes substantial time for feedback from the community. We believe this process is more than adequate to effectively manage additional licenses in excess of the previously established quota.

The needs of individual cities and towns are better understood at the local level, as are the potential benefits or detriments that could come from a higher number of locally granted liquor licenses. Local licensing authorities will only approve applications that are broadly supported by the community, and the ABCC would continue to investigate the individuals involved and the premises that the application is proposed for. We believe that this existing check-and-balance practice for granting available licenses is sufficiently thorough to handle the granting of additional licenses, making the existing quota system outmoded and no longer necessary.

Cities and towns across the commonwealth understand the importance of building local economies, and these licenses help to aid such economic development by allowing even the smallest towns to spur development in a downtown area for their residents and visitors to eat, shop and enjoy a night out without leaving their community. Every town across the state has undergone significant change since the current law came into effect in 1933. More recently, as industry has shifted away from manufacturing, many communities that were once mill towns, manufacturing centers, or river and railway trading hubs, have transformed into residential suburbs with different needs. No one understands those needs better than the residents and their local officials, and the best policy is to give them the ability to make economic development decisions directly.

The ABCC website explicitly states that the process to grant an available license may take several months, but that does not take into account the length of time it takes to prepare, file, hear, schedule, vote and enact home rule petitions, so this legislation would be a positive step to streamline this prolonged process.

The time has come to trust and authorize local officials and community residents with the ability to grant additional licenses without petitioning the General Court. The local licensing authority approval process is more than adequate to review applicants and decide the number of licenses to award. The state would still retain control over the granting of licensure through the regulatory powers of the ABCC. H. 334 and S. 142 would streamline the unnecessarily lengthy process that exists now, and in doing so would spur timely economic growth and decision-making.

Thank you for your interest in this very important local government matter. If you have any questions, please contact me or MMA Senior Legislative Analyst Brittney Franklin at 617-426-7272 or bfranklin@mma.org at any time.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO