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Maine bill would make to-go alcohol permanent

The current law, aimed at helping restaurants during COVID, is set to expire in September.

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Since early on in the pandemic, Maine restaurants have been able to sell alcohol to customers who order takeout. 

A new proposed bill could make that permanent.

LD 1751 would extend takeout alcohol sales indefinitely. Hospitality Maine Director of Government Affairs Greg Dugal testified before the Veterans & Legal Affairs Committee that these sales are vital to most of its restaurants.

"In a poll of Hospitality Maine members in July of 2020, 93 of 117 respondents said that they included beer and wine in the manufacturer's original package as part of their takeout menu," he said. "A whopping 80%."

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, Told said transforming this pandemic-induced emergency relief into regular policy works for Mainers still uneasy about dining in, as well as hard-hit businesses.

"The ability for them to order food and drinks and take them home gives them that restaurant experience at their house," he said. "It also helps the restaurant gain revenues."

At El Rayo Taqueria in Scarborough, General Manager Chris Brown said even during the restaurant's slow winter season, over the previous 30 days, customers bought more than 150 house margaritas to-go. Each specialty drink costing as much as a lunch entrée adds up to more cushion in the budget and more tips for staff.

"Just having that little bit in your pocket at the end of the week could make or break a lot of restaurants," he said.

But support for the bill is not unanimous. 

In Dugal's same hearing, Maine Public Health Association Executive Director Rebecca Boulos testified against the bill. In a statement sent to the committee, she wrote, "These changes to the law have been associated with an increase in consumption, alcohol-related damages, and increased pressure on very limited enforcement capacity."

When asked about Boulos' testimony, Luchini said he intended to work with health organizations like MPHA to iron out concerns while believing his bill could solve alcohol-related problems rather than cause them.

"Rather than consuming their meal and alcohol at the restaurant and then driving home, people are going to the restaurant, picking up their dinner and their drinks, and then taking it home and consuming it there," he said. "Which I think is a positive aspect out of this."

As of Wednesday, LD 1751 remained in the committee, which it must pass through to get a vote in the whole state Senate. 

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