Councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison said the only reason he sponsored a proposal to extend bar hours to 4 a.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays is to create permit fees necessary to fund additional enforcement personnel in the Alcoholic Beverage Control Office.
Addison, a lame duck nearing the end of his third term, said the ABC board has expressed concern about loss of manpower to enforce alcohol rules in bars and stores.
“If you don’t have the staff, manpower or resources for enforcement, then you have people out there going unchecked that are selling alcohol to our children,” he said.
Under the proposal, which will be heard Wednesday by the East Baton Rouge Parish Metropolitan Council, bars can purchase a permit for $40,000 to stay open two hours later on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
He said even if only one or two establishments purchase the permit, it would generate enough revenue for the ABC office to hire additional personnel, while not having to increase existing fees on restaurants and bars.
He said the permit creates “a level playing field” because any bar could purchase the fee, but noted the fee is expensive enough that very few bars would participate.
Addison noted that he would not support any measure that “increases the proliferation, use or misuse of alcohol sales.”
“There was a comment about how it was tailored toward the riverboat (casinos),” he said. “They’re probably right about that. Who else would be able to afford that?”
He said he wouldn’t support a measure that made extending hours easily available to all bars.
Addison also said that while he agreed to sponsor the measure, it was ABC officials who came up with the idea and asked him to sponsor it.
“They asked me to do this, and I said, ‘I’ll put my name on it if you guys draft the resolution and ordinance,’ ” he said.
Chris Cranford, ABC director, referred comment to assistant parish attorney Lea Anne Batson.
In an email from the parish attorney’s office to the Metro Council, Batson said the office would not have suggested the new permit fee. The parish attorney’s office oversees the ABC office.
“We would, of course, welcome additional staff as would any department,” Batson said in the email, which noted the office has suffered from attrition and frozen positions in recent years. “However, we are not now, nor would we ever, suggest that the council permit or prohibit any activity in order to generate revenue by virtue of the required monitoring.”
Many bars already have come forward indicating that the permit fee is too expensive, and at least one casino has said it likely would take advantage of the ordinance.
A L’Auberge spokesperson said Wednesday that Baton Rouge’s newest casino would like the opportunity to better compete with New Orleans and Gulf Coast casinos that serve alcohol all hours of the night.
Jim Rigot, general manager of Hollywood Casino, said he would consider the permit if the ordinance passed, particularly if either of his competitors, L’Auberge or the Belle of Baton Rouge, sought permits to stay open later.
“Competitive forces would kick in,” he said.
But Rigot said it wouldn’t be an easy decision because he already thinks “we pay too much in taxes and fees now.”
Patrick Browne, general manager of the Belle of Baton Rouge, did not return a phone call Friday.