EDITORIAL: State should give local communities ability to set own bar closing hours

Downtown scene on Caroline Street after Travers Day at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs on Saturday, August 28, 2021.
ERICA MILLER/THE DAILY GAZETTE Downtown scene on Caroline Street after Travers Day at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs on Saturday, August 28, 2021.

It does make a certain amount of sense that the state grants control over the closing times for bars and restaurants to counties.

The idea of a consistent bar closing time countywide is largely to keep people from drinking at bars in one community, then driving to another where the bars stay open later. That’s an open invitation to more drunken driving.

So one could easily see why counties would want to keep the same bar closing times for all their communities.

But at the same time, some communities might want the option of setting their own bar closing times, separate of the county time, to help curb a local problem with drunkenness and violence associated with later bar closings.

Right now, under state law, communities have to appeal to the counties for permission to do so.

Saratoga Springs officials, frustrated with their inability to rein in trouble in the popular Caroline Street entertainment area, are the latest to consider seeking an earlier closing time.

If communities like Saratoga Springs feel the earlier hours will help with their specific problems, then why shouldn’t officials there be able to set the bar closure hours themselves?

Why should the county closing hours in Clifton Park or Ballston Spa or Corinth or Moreau dictate when bars close in Saratoga Springs?

Some communities might not be having problems with their local bars staying open later, while other places like Saratoga Springs are. Shouldn’t the communities with problems be allowed to impose their own solutions?

As for drunken drivers driving to communities with later bar hours, that can happen anywhere in the county, and between counties.

South Glens Falls and Glens Falls, for instance, are located in separate counties, but only separated by a short bridge over the Hudson River. Aren’t patrons more likely to bar-hop between those two communities than between communities separated by a longer distance?

It’s also not a given that bar closure hours play a significant role in a higher number of DWIs.

In some communities, DWIs peak after bars close, whenever that is. And in others, later closing times mean fewer patrons and fewer DWIs.

So a single county closing time may not be as effective a DWI deterrent as it would seem.

Regardless of where people are driving and when, police always need to maintain a consistent presence. And communities and state liquor officials always need to maintain strict oversight over establishments that violate rules for underage drinking, overserving and violence.

If communities feel they need to close bars earlier to control problems, then state lawmakers should let them by changing state law to give them local control.

This editorial has been updated to remove information about the Saratoga Springs vote regarding earlier closing times.

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