Legislators want to push back last call

By Bob Purvis
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday February 2, 2004

PHOENIX - Waking up for class might be a little harder next year if a group of state legislators succeed in pushing back bar closing time.

With the support of 36 Republican and Democratic legislators, it looks as though a bill that would push last call to 2 a.m., and closing time to 2:30 a.m., might have enough kick to make it to the governor's desk.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, said the current 1 a.m. cutoff is "goofy."

Reagan said extending the bar time could help bolster Arizona's tourist economy, which has lost large business conventions to nearby states with later last calls.

"We have actually heard people say, 'You know we love Arizona, but it just doesn't have the entertainment,'" Reagan said.

Of the 50 largest cities in the United States, only Tucson, Phoenix, Mesa and Omaha have a 1 a.m. last call. San Diego, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles all have a 2 a.m. last call.

Last call is currently at 1 a.m. and closing time is at 1:15 a.m. Giving patrons more time between last call and closing time will actually decrease the number of drunken drivers by giving them time to call a cab, Reagan said.

"We are empowering bar owners to help these people find a ride home before they close instead of just pushing them out the door at 1:15," Reagan said.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving opposes the bill, arguing it would only put drivers who were more drunk on the road later.

"It's not going to help them sober up. It's just going to let them on the road an hour later," said Beverly Mason, office administrator for MADD's Pima County chapter.

Mason said boosting tourism doesn't merit the potential loss of life that will stem from the later closing time.

"The benefits just don't outweigh the danger posed by having a later drinking time. It's just not worth it," Mason said. "There are other ways to increase tourism than making a later bar time."

The current closing time encourages people to drink as much as they can in the little time they have before bars close, which causes more problems than extended hours would, said Luke Cufack, owner of The Keys, 445 W. Wetmore Road.

"Right now the law promotes what we call power drinking," Cufack said.

The Keys starts playing slow songs about an hour before closing time to encourage people to take a cab home and sober up. The problem is that many people don't even go out until 10 p.m., Cufack said.

"I think it's a good idea," Cufack said. "It gives us enough time to sober up our customers and get them cab rides home."

Greg Esposito, a media arts sophomore, said he thinks it is a good idea to keep the bars open later.

"I think that leaving the bars open until 2 a.m. will do nothing but help the economy of Tucson. The longer they are open, the more money that college kids and others will spend," he said.

But Elaine Mah, an accounting and finance junior, said she would be worried about the dangers of extending last-call time.

"I kind of think it would be dangerous to be open later because then people can just get more drunk. And that's not that good of an idea," she said.

The bill has the support of bar and restaurant owners across the state who say they are losing tourist dollars to the 48 other states that have later last calls.

"We think it is vital to Arizona becoming more and more of a premier destination," said Steve Chucri, president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant and Hospitality Association. "Is it the most important thing? Of course not, but it certainly handicaps us to some degree."

Chucri couldn't say exactly how much money the later hours would bring into Arizona's $6.3 billion restaurant and hospitality industry, but said it would be a sizeable increase.

"It all adds up and it adds up quick," Chucri said.

Chucri said there are plenty of people who don't get off of work until late at night and deserve a chance to drink.

"A lot of people don't get off until 1 a.m., so it will allow them a chance to relax and unwind," Chucri said.

If the bill were to die in the Legislature, Arizona cocktail enthusiasts could get another chance to extend their time on the dance floor, thanks to a group called Arizona United. The group wants to put the issue on the November ballot.

The group filed an initiative last May, dubbed the Last Call Act of 2004. It would allow alcohol to be served until 3 a.m., rather than 1 a.m.

- Dana Crudo contributed to this report.

Editor's note:
The article originally incorrectly stated that pushing back last call would allow more time for people to call a cab or take advantage of programs like UA's SafeRide.

The Wildcat regrets the error.