Michigan Legislature approves cocktails to-go and passes ‘social districts’ to drink outside

By Scott McClallen | The Center Square 15 hrs ago

(The Center Square) – Lansing lawmakers approved two bills aimed to help bars and restaurants survive the half-capacity limit during COVID-19 and allow residents to drink alcohol outside.

One bill would allow restaurants and bars to sell cocktails to-go for pickup or delivery in a sealed container.

House Bill 5781 would allow eligible restaurants to create social districts in which customers who are ages 21 and over can purchase and drink alcohol from nearby restaurants.

Only one lawmaker in each chamber voted against the bills.

“By approving cocktails to-go, the legislature is throwing a much-needed economic lifeline to Michigan restaurants and bars,” David Wojnar, vice president of state government relations for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed in-person dining in restaurants and bars in March through June 8 for most of the state. The three-bill package aims to boost sales to help hospitality businesses recover from lost sales.

Another bill would give on-premise licensees a 23 percent discount on liquor purchased from the state for one year, up from 17 percent.

The state typically marks up liquor prices by 65 percent. 

The Michigan Liquor Control Commission had estimated $30 million of losses using a 30 percent discount, the deal approved by the Senate, in a similar plan.

Either way, the bill would temporarily reduce general fund revenue by an indeterminate amount.

According to the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, the legislation is slated to boost business for 8,500 on-premise licensees in Michigan.

Under the bills, restaurants and bars would be able to sell cocktails to-go until Dec. 31, 2025, while local governments could create social districts through 2024.

About 30 states and the District of Columbia allow restaurants and bars to sell cocktails or spirits to-go.

“We are hopeful that Governor Whitmer will sign cocktails to-go into law before the upcoming holiday weekend,” Michigan Spirits Association President Sam Awdish said.

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