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Hochul presses for passage of alcohol-to-go law

Governor Kathy Hochul speaking in Brooklyn.
Don Pollard
Governor Kathy Hochul speaking in Brooklyn.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday highlighted legislation that would help struggling restaurants and bars by making it easier for establishments to obtain temporary liquor licenses. She also promoted her proposal to reauthorize the alcohol-to-go program, which was very popular during COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdowns.

The Democrat spoke at the Brooklyn-based Therapy Wine Bar 2.0, which struggled to obtain a temporary liquor license when it opened during the pandemic.

“It’s five o’clock somewhere,” she said to laughter.

Hochul says she also wants to invest money in the state Liquor Authority to deal with more than 3,700 pending applications. The governor says her budget proposal includes $2 million to hire 39 more employees, 30 of them dedicated exclusively to dealing with the backlog.

Hochul says that for the first time, restaurant and bar owners will be able to apply for liquor licenses online, something the governor says is long overdue.

“Kind of a radical concept, I know,” the governor joked. “I'm kind of going out there on a limb, but they have not had the resources to build the infrastructure, to do what they wanted to do. So we’re going to reduce processing time literally by months by allowing people to apply online.”

State Liquor Authority Chair Vincent Bradley says it now takes an average of six months to obtain a temporary liquor license. He says that’s far too long.

“It should not take more than 20 or 25 days (to get a temporary license),” Bradley said.

Bradley says he will also be examining hundreds of regulations enacted during the Prohibition era that have remained on the books even if they have long outlived their usefulness.

The governor, in her budget, is proposing that patrons be able to order drinks to go along with their takeout or delivery food orders. The practice was authorized through an emergency act at the height of the pandemic but has since lapsed.

“Who would have thought that this would be the most popular item in my entire budget?” Hochul said. “I've got $10 billion for health care and education, $31 billion, $32.8 billion for infrastructure. We've got all these great projects, but the one thing that went viral was to-go drinks. You got to love New York, right?”

Hochul admits there is opposition to the measure from the liquor industry. The Legislature would need to approve the proposal before it can become law. She says if it is approved, the Liquor Authority will issue regulations aimed at keeping alcohol out of the hands of underage people.

The governor says she also wants to make outdoor dining, begun during the pandemic, a permanent fixture and provide funds for restaurants who invested in outdoor seating fixtures and space heaters.

Hochul’s actions were praised by the state’s Business Council, as well as the state’s restaurant and hospitality associations, saying it’s “smart” policy to help a devastated industry.

The governor’s event comes as a new law to allow theaters to serve alcoholic drinks takes effect on Friday.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.