(The Center Square) – What started as a way to ease regulations and as an opportunity to help alcohol-serving restaurants and bars during statewide restrictions could become permanent based on a bill in the Ohio Legislature.
Earlier this year, the Ohio Liquor Control Commission passed an emergency rule allowing for the sale and delivery for off-premise consumption of alcohol and limited the option to two drinks. The rule was to help establishments make up lost revenue during a statewide stay-at-home order.
A bill before the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee would make it permanent. Proponents say eliminating the regulation entirely would provide needed support for restaurants and bars, which continue to struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In written testimony before the committee, The Buckeye Institute Research Fellow Greg Lawson pointed out the hospitality and leisure job sector in the state lost nearly 147,000 jobs in the past year.
“By permanently allowing Ohio restaurants and bars to offer alcohol on their carryout and delivery menus,” Lawson said, the industry would be thrown “a needed lifeline to the small and local businesses and their employees struggling to survive COVID-19’s economic shutdown.”
He asked lawmakers to make the “emergency rule for alcoholic beverage carryout and delivery permanent. Lifting the arbitrary two-drink limit and expanding the areas in which a liquor permit holder may sell alcoholic beverages will go a long way toward helping local bars and restaurants maintain a revenue stream so that they can continue providing steady, well-paying jobs in our communities.”
Opponents say permanently lifting the regulation would provide alcohol access to minors and harm communities across the state.
Former state Rep. and Tuscarawas County Commissioner Kerry Metzger encouraged lawmakers to add an age requirement for delivery drivers and have the state limit the number of drinks a person can buy.
“I understand that the economic toll of COVID-19 on our business community has been severe,” Metzger, current chairman of the Tuscarawas County Anti-Drug Coalition, testified. “Addressing this economic impact is important but doing so unfettered, with little-to-no consumer protections is careless and dangerous, and I believe that the unintended consequences of this bill will do great harm to Ohio’s youth, vulnerable populations and communities, resulting in lasting harm to our behavioral health system.”
The Liquor Commission also passed an emergency rule in late July that blocks the sale of alcohol at all liquor-permitted establishments at 10 p.m. each day.
An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher.