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Published: Friday, 10/9/2009

Michigan House OKs longer bar hours for a fee

ASSOCIATED PRESS

LANSING - Bars could stay open two hours longer and stores could sell alcohol on Sunday mornings if a state fee is paid, under legislation approved yesterday by a House committee.

The Democratic-led House Appropriations Committee, voting 18-12, will send the extended-hours bill to the full House, which could vote later in the day.

Michigan bars close at 2 a.m. Under the bill, bar owners could pay $1,500 to sell alcohol until 4 a.m. The bill also would lift the Prohibition-era ban against selling alcohol on Sunday morning if bars pay $1,500. Golf courses, stores, and Detroit bars catering to Lions fans are among those hoping to sell before noon Sunday.

Local governments could opt out and not allow businesses to sell during the added hours.

Supporters estimate the plan would raise $13 million a year. Democrats want to raise more money to pay for programs that otherwise could sustain deeper cuts in the state budget.

The extended-hours proposal is not new, but sponsor (Rep. Richard Hammel (D., Flushing) hopes it gets enough support this time.

"Every other major destination spot in the country when it comes to cities has this option," he said.

Rep. Bill Rogers (R., Brighton) voted against the bill, recounting his college bartending days. He said keeping bars open another two hours would be "ugly."

Richard Rondeau, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in southeast Michigan, said the extra cash is not worth the potential problems. "We feel that the chances are very likely - and too dangerous - for someone who may already be impaired to drive to another bar opened until 4 a.m.," he said in a statement.

Also yesterday, the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency reported the state has collected $130 million less in revenue through September than projected in May - confirming finances are bleak in a state with the nation's highest unemployment rate. Income tax revenue was down nearly 19 percent in the fiscal year that just ended compared with the 2007-08 budget year; sales and use tax collections were 11 percent lower.

An interim one-month budget was passed last week when the Legislature missed its Oct. 1 budget-balancing deadline for the second time in three years.

Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed bills to fund community colleges, the judiciary, and the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs for rest of the fiscal year. There are other spending bills unsigned or held up by the Senate GOP.

Also, the House Appropriations Committee explored whether horse tracks and the Michigan Lottery could be a source of more money to help with the deficit.



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