A proposed ‘cocktail-to-go’ bill may let you take your drink outside 

Image by Thorsten Frenzel from Pixabay

New bills introduced in the Legislature would permit restaurants to offer takeaway alcoholic drinks and public consumption in some areas. 

State Sens. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) and Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) introduced legislation Thursday that would allow for open alcohol containers in designated public spaces in response to other restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“I think this is a huge step forward into how we can start to get back out there and back out there safely,” McMorrow said in a video statement Thursday. “And keep some of our favorite places, our bars and our restaurants, surviving through this.”

Senate Bill 938, introduced by McMorrow, proposes allowing cocktails-to-go from bars and restaurants that have been closed for in-person dining since March 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Michigan currently only allows for people to take out closed containers of beer and wine.

Under the proposed bill, containers must be clearly labeled that they contain alcohol, cannot have straw holes, must be “clean, refillable and resealable” and may not exceed one gallon. 

McMorrow said that the bill is intended to help businesses survive through the state-mandated closures, especially those that rely on alcohol sales.

“For restaurants, these are high-ticketed items,” McMorrow said. “Alcohol sales usually make up about one-third of the cash that restaurants bring in. And this would also allow restaurants to keep more people on staff and more people employed.”

Senate Bill 939, introduced by Irwin, would allow for municipalities to designate “social districts,” or areas where people can carry open containers and drink alcohol in public. 

Local governments would be required to clearly mark the areas and only allows for sales and drinking during normal business hours.

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Businesses would need to obtain a $300 social district permit, only serve their drinks out of containers that are marked with their logo or another trademark that is unique to their business and must ensure that customers don’t leave the designated area with open containers. 

The Senate bill package has been referred to the Committee on Regulatory Reform.

On Tuesday, a similar bill was introduced in the House, House Bill 5781, by state Rep. Michael Webber (R-Rochester). The legislation is in the House Regulatory Reform Committee.

A number of other states and local governments already have open-container or alcohol delivery laws in place, or have relaxed restrictive laws during the COVID-19 crisis, including Texas, New York, Idaho, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Hampshire and Maryland. 

Michigan is phasing in reopening businesses and restaurants as the state starts to see the COVID-19 flattening in some parts of the state. As of Friday, restaurants and bars in the Traverse City area and the Upper Peninsula are allowed to open back up for dine-in services. 

Allison Donahue
Allison Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.