Last call moved to 2 a.m.

By Bob Purvis
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

PHOENIX Late nights will get a little later for Arizona's imbibers now that Gov. Janet Napolitano signed a bill yesterday to push last call to 2 a.m.

Because the bill does not have an emergency clause, which would make it effective immediately, it will take 90 days after the end of the legislative session to take effect.

With no sign of a quick end to the current session, there is no telling when that might be.

When the law takes effect, patrons will have until 2 a.m. to buy liquor and until 2:30 a.m. to finish consuming it at a licensed bar or restaurant.

Napolitano also sent letters to the directors of the Department of Public Safety, the Governor's Office of Highway Safety and the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, asking for close monitoring of the new law's effects.

"Even as I sign the bill, I'm still concerned about the impact it could have on our citizens, and on state and local law enforcement," Napolitano said in a press release. "I want the agencies to keep track of any changes and report back to me in six months."

In the letter, the governor said the Legislature promised the liquor license department additional funding and new investigative positions.

The department is requesting an additional $580,000 to fund six new investigative positions to assist the existing 15 field officers in policing approximately 10,800 licenses.

But Jeanine L'Ecuyer, the governor's press secretary, said she is not sure what the governor could do if the report shows increases in drunken driving or alcohol-related accidents.

"Our most fervent hope of course is that it won't be (an increase in accidents)," L'Ecuyer said.

Until now, Arizona had one of the earliest closing times in the nation; of the 50 largest cities in the United States, only Tucson, Phoenix, Mesa and Omaha, Neb., have a 1 a.m. last call. San Diego, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles all have a 2 a.m. last call.

Legislators pushing for the later closing time said although Arizona's tourism industry flourished with an early closing time, it was costing the state and the hospitality industry millions in potential revenue.

"The way I look at a 1 a.m. closing time is that it's not going to keep tourists from coming to Arizona," said Rep. Michelle Reagan, R-Scottsdale, the bill's sponsor. "But while they're here, I don't see why we're afraid to take their money."

Reagan said despite all the effort she put behind pushing the bill through the Legislature, she doesn't know if she will have a cocktail on the inaugural night of the 2 a.m. close.

"I would love to, but who knows? We will be in the middle of an election by then," Reagan said.

Lobbyists from the hospitality industry have pushed hard for the bill's passage and were glad to hear the governor's decision to sign the bill.

"That's a nice thing politically for her to do for the people in our industry," said Bill Weigele, president of the Arizona Licensed Beverage Association. "This is the first good thing to happen to the industry in over 10 years."

Weigele estimates the later last call will generate at least $55 million in its first year.

While not all establishments will opt to stay open until 2 a.m., the ones that do will likely face little more inconvenience than adjusting shifts to accommodate the later closing time, Weigele said.

People working late shifts, who until now have had to rush to consume an alcoholic beverage after work, will now be able to go out and enjoy themselves, Weigele said.

"These guys and gals like to go out and relax and unwind," Weigele said.

The later last call could impact students employed at university-area bars, who can expect to stay at least an hour and 15 minutes longer when the change kicks in.

Mia Rubinelli, a bartender at Belushe's, 1118 E. Sixth Street, said although closing later may at first bring groans from some bar employees, they will get used to it.

"When it is their turn to go out drinking, they'll enjoy having another hour to go out," Rubinelli said.

Rubinelli moved to Arizona from Indiana, where bars stay open until 3 a.m.

"This is actually the first state I've lived in where bars close this early," Rubinelli said.

Jesse Horner, math senior, said he will "absolutely" stay out longer and take advantage of the later hours.

"It will be an extra $20 on my credit card."

Phil Linduska, a communication junior who works at Dirtbag's, 1800 E. Speedway Blvd., said it will be hard to get used to the later work hours.

"People who work at bars are going to be zombies," he said, adding that it will be nice to earn the extra money.

Tom Griffiths, a 23-year-old from England, said he likes the change because it will give him more time to talk to girls.

"You can make your last-call phone calls to girls," Griffiths said.

Dana Crudo contributed to this report.