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'Brunch' bill now keeps last call at 3 a.m.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last call at bars and clubs across the state would remain at 3 a.m., in the latest incarnation of a bill commonly known as the "Sunday Brunch Act," as amended Tuesday in Senate Government Organization Committee.

The bill (HB4454) originally was intended to allow bars and restaurants with Alcohol Beverage Control Administration licenses to serve alcoholic beverages as early as 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, instead of 1 p.m. as current law dictates.

The change is being sought by lobbyists for the state's travel and hospitality industry, who say visitors are surprised to learn they cannot be served Bloody Marys or mimosas at Sunday brunches at restaurants in the state.

However, Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, amended the bill on the House floor to move the nightly cut-off hour for bars and clubs to sell alcoholic beverages from 3 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Overington has pushed for the earlier last call for years, contending the later closing time hurts counties that border on neighboring states where bars have to close earlier.

"It means we attract the wrong type of people from Pennsylvania, Maryland, who come to West Virginia because they want a few extra drinks," Overington said at the time.

However, critics noted the change could cost the state about $9 million a year in lost revenue from Limited Video Lottery, since by law the hours of operation for the video lottery machines, which are in more than 1,600 bars and clubs around the state, corresponds with the hours that liquor may be served.

With little discussion and on a unanimous voice vote Tuesday, the Senate Government Organization Committee amended the bill to restore the 3 a.m. last call. The bill now goes to Senate Judiciary.

Also Tuesday, the Government Organization Committee:

  • Advanced a bill to allow persons with conceal-carry gun permits to have firearms in vehicles parked at the Capitol Complex, so long as the vehicles are locked and the weapons are out of view (HB4309). Currently, firearms are prohibited anywhere on the Capitol grounds.
  • Advanced a bill to allow the governor to declare a "state of preparedness" in addition to a state of emergency (HB4147).
  • Joe Garcia, deputy general counsel to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, said the legislation is inspired by last summer's Boy Scout Jamboree in Fayette County, where Tomblin declared a state of emergency in order to deploy National Guard, and have emergency services providers on standby.

    Garcia said that from a public-relations standpoint, declaring a state of preparedness is preferable to declaring a state of emergency. Otherwise, a state of preparedness invokes the same powers as a state of emergency, he said.

    Sen. Evan Jenkins, R-Cabell, raised concerns that the legislation would impose the same ban on price-gouging as in a state of emergency. In either case, retailers are prohibited from raising the price of food, essential consumer goods or fuel prices more than 10 percent while the declaration is in effect.

    "I'm all in favor of these important consumer protections in a state of emergency," Jenkins said. "My question is, why do we also need these for a state of preparedness?"

    Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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