Seattle awaits ruling on bar hours

State mulls proposal to allow last call after 2 a.m.

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At an April 3 hearing in Vancouver, testimony was mixed about extending liquor service hours.

Several speakers at the Vancouver City Hall hearing said they were concerned about increased drunken driving, and said that more impaired drivers on the road could stretch rural police forces too thin. But some supported the rule change, saying it would boost local economies and that each city should get to choose whether to extend the 2 a.m. cutoff. About 30 people showed up to the hearing and seven people testified.

SEATTLE — Following objections from other cities, Seattle will have to wait a month to know if its efforts to extend bar hours beyond 2 a.m. can go forward.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and other city officials have wanted to make last call later, arguing that law enforcement is burdened by a mass of drunks tumbling out of night clubs and bars in places like Pioneer Square and Belltown.

After Seattle presented its proposal, Washington State Liquor Control Board commissioners agreed to have four hearings in Vancouver, Kennewick, Spokane and Seattle to discuss the idea. Under current state law, bars can’t sell alcohol between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.

“The input we have is mixed,” liquor board spokesman Brian Smith said. “We heard from law enforcement in Spokane, they did not support the proposal. The police chief spoke on behalf of the city itself.”

Smith added that Vancouver officials expressed concern about neighboring cities seeking similar exceptions and people going to those cities to drink and then possibly driving.

The vote itself will not automatically change last call in Seattle. It will set up the mechanism for the city to apply for an exemption to state law. The commissioners will take that initial vote now May 30.

“The board is looking at getting their questions answered,” Smith said. “They’ve always said public safety is their No. 1 priority.”

Seattle city officials remain hopeful their proposal will go forward.

“We were expecting a discussion on what made sense,” said Aaron Pickus, spokesman for McGinn’s office. “We would like the opportunity to submit a pilot program for extended hours for the city of Seattle. If others cities or counties don’t want to do that, they don’t have to.”

The city’s proposal is backed up by its police department and the King County executive’s office, along with trade groups, Pickus said.

The city is also moving forward with other initiatives that would work with extended hours, such as making designated taxi areas in the city’s night life districts, as well as allowing people to pre-pay morning parking.