MMA letter to Municipalities and Regional Government Committee calling for law change to allow local control over non-transferable liquor licenses

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The Honorable James O’Day, House Chair
The Honorable Barbara L'Italien, Senate Chair
Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government
State House, Boston
 
Dear Representative O’Day, Senator L’Italien, and Distinguished 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. 3906, and specifically sections 209-220, 238, and 240, regarding Local Control of Liquor Licenses, before the Committee for public hearing today.
 
These sections would grant 350 municipalities the authority to decide the number of non-transferable liquor licenses that could be issued to facilities such as restaurants and managers of special outdoor events for on-premises consumption. These sections would not change the statutory quota for liquor stores or similar facilities that sell alcohol for off-premises consumption. The sections would also repeal other statutory provisions concerning supplemental licenses beyond the minimum quota and caps on the total number of licenses issued to any person or corporation. These sections would also make clear that the number of licenses authorized under current law would continue, unless changed by a municipality pursuant to the municipal plan permitted under these sections.
 
The MMA has testified in strong support of similar bills late last year (S. 144 and H. 255), and strongly urge you to support those measures as well.
 
Over the past five years, the Legislature has approved more than 170 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 requests demonstrates the urgent need for comprehensive legislation to address this issue and return authority to the cities and towns of Massachusetts. The lengthy and arduous petition process makes it very difficult for communities and restaurant owners and developers to plan and make timely decisions, and makes the process of downtown investment and neighborhood development more difficult.
 
Cities and towns should have control over the number of liquor licenses in each community. We believe that the current legislative petition system for obtaining a license above the statutory cap slows and limits economic growth and that the process should be modernized to allow for appropriate local decision-making and expedited local economic development, which should be the goal of both state and municipal officials.
 
The current process to secure a liquor license 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 would remain in place after passage of H. 3906, and would provide sufficient levels of review of the application and substantial time for feedback from the community. We believe this process is more than adequate to effectively manage decisions over the granting of additional licenses in excess of the previously established quota.
 
The needs of cities and towns are better understood at the local level, as are the potential benefits or detriments that would come from granting additional licenses. Local licensing authorities will only approve applications that are broadly supported by the community, and the ABCC investigates the individuals involved and location and premises of the applicant’s establishment. 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 strong, vibrant and attractive local economies, and this licensing authority would foster and improve such economic development. Residents and visitors of all municipalities, from our smallest towns to our largest cities, are actively seeking downtown and neighborhood areas where they can dine, shop and enjoy a night out without leaving the community. Every town and city across the state has undergone significant change and transformation since 1933, when the current license cap law came into effect. Industry has shifted away from manufacturing, and communities that were once mill towns, manufacturing centers or river and railway trading hubs have transformed into residential suburbs with much different needs. No one understands those needs better than local officials, who are directly accountable and closest to their residents, which is why municipal leaders should be authorized and empowered to make these decisions.
 
It is explicitly stated on the ABCC website that the process to grant an available license may take several months, but the added step of legislative approval significantly extends this process. Passage of H. 3906 would eliminate uncertainty, and result in much more timely decision-making and effective downtown economic development.
 
We believe that the time has come to entrust local officials with the power to grant additional licenses – these are the public leaders who best know their communities, and they are directly accountable to their citizens. The local licensing authority approval process is more than adequate to review applicants. The state would still retain control over the granting of licensure through the regulatory powers of the ABCC. These changes would help accelerate this unnecessarily lengthy process and in doing so, better represent the interest of communities across Massachusetts and help spur economic growth. Please support sections 209-220, 238, and 240 of H. 3906.
 
Thank you for your interest in this very important local government priority. If you have any questions, please contact me or MMA Legislative Director John Robertson at (617) 426-7272 or jrobertson@mma.org at any time.
 
Sincerely,
 
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO