BOSTON -- The top Democrat and Republican in the Senate agree the current tangle of laws capping liquor licenses is in need of revision.
"I've always been inclined to support allowing communities to make those decisions. I think that's a vestige of Puritan New England that we should be giving people permission as to how many liquor licenses there ought to be in their community," Senate President Stan Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, told reporters after Thursday's session. "But it's stalled and I've tried to be part of moving that, oh, maybe three different times in my career."
In general, state statute limits the number of liquor and wine and beer licenses for each city and town based on its population. The Legislature routinely makes exceptions to that law, granting additional licenses to municipalities on an individual basis through a local petition.
On Thursday after the Senate advanced bills granting additional liquor licenses for Northampton and West Bridgewater, the chamber's top Republican proposed reform to the ad hoc approach.
"It appears that with growing frequency the exceptions are overtaking the rule," Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester told his colleagues on the floor. He said, "It seems that there is rarely a week that passes that we do not either in formal or informal session grant a municipality an additional liquor license, and usually Mr. President it is more than one."
Tarr said he is "not unsympathetic" to municipalities that want to grant licenses "as they see fit," and suggested a solution that would maintain the appropriate number of liquor licenses while "recognizing that cities and towns do need to come to us."
Gov. Charlie Baker filed legislation as part of a municipal modernization bill that would allow cities and towns to set their own quota for restaurants licensed to serve alcohol. That portion of the governor's bill (H 3906) is pending before the Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government.
Under the current system, local governments can petition the Legislature for an increase above the statutory cap.
On Thursday the Senate sent the governor a bill authorizing Northampton to grant additional liquor licenses for four establishments - Ibiza Tapas, Local Burger, Sierra Grill and Sylvester's Restaurant - and passed a bill allowing West Bridgewater to grant one additional restaurant liquor license and one additional package store liquor license.
The Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission tracks the number of licensed establishments and the special laws granting communities more licenses above their caps. During fiscal 2015 the Legislature enacted 23 bills creating excess quota licenses, according to the ABCC, and in fiscal 2014 the Legislature enacted 27 such bills.
From calendar 2013 to calendar 2014, the number of bars and restaurants licensed to serve alcohol increased by 36 to 8,686, according to the ABCC reports.