Gov. Baker wants to give cities control over liquor licenses
BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker is asking state lawmakers to give local city and town leaders the power to set quotas for the number of liquor licenses that can be issued to restaurants and other businesses in their communities.
The bill would exempt the state's largest city, Boston.
The state currently caps the number of licenses a city or town can grant under a formula based partly on population. Any requests for liquor licenses that exceed the cap must be brought before the Legislature for approval.
The proposal is part of a larger bill introduced by the Republican governor on Monday aimed at updating and streamlining a number of state laws covering the powers of municipal governments.
One of the proposals would give cities and towns the right of first refusal if a property owned by a charitable organization or church is being sold or developed for a non-exempt purpose. Another would let municipalities issue motor vehicle citations electronically.
The question about whether to give local communities more autonomy in deciding if they should grant additional liquor licenses to restaurants isn't new.
Former Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, tried unsuccessfully to persuade state lawmakers to give cities and towns more control over liquor licenses.
Mayors and town administrators are generally in favor of the change, but not everyone agrees.
Among the skeptics are some current liquor license holders, who have argued that a flood of additional licenses could threaten their businesses.
Baker said his proposal is more narrowly focused on restaurant licensees as a way to help cities and towns spur development in downtown areas, including drawing in more people who want to live in urban areas.
"It's very hard to do residential development if you don't have restaurants and retail," Baker told reporters. "There's a real opportunity here to do some things for some of the cities especially who've had trouble kickstarting their downtowns."
The Massachusetts Senate last year approved a bill that would have given cities and towns more control over liquor licenses, including it in a larger economic development bill. The House opted against including the liquor license proposal is its version of the bill.
The Legislature is set to return to formal sessions in January.
Baker said the goal of the other elements of his bill is to eliminate or update obsolete laws; promote local autonomy; streamline state oversight of local communities; and provide municipalities with greater flexibility.
He said some of the changes he is proposing are targeted at state laws that haven't been modified since the early 1900s.
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