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Bill may limit bar hours

February 09, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Eastern Panhandle voters may get the opportunity to make last call earlier at their local bars.

A new bill to be introduced today in the West Virginia Senate in Charleston would give local governments the option to offer referendum votes to force bars to stop selling alcohol before the current 3:30 a.m. cutoff, said the bill's sponsor, state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley.

Voters would be able to set alcohol restrictions of between midnight and 3:30 a.m. in their communities, Unger said.

Bars in neighboring Maryland and Virginia must stop selling alcohol at 2 a.m., and Unger said he is concerned that late-night revelers are hitting the streets after last call in those states and heading for West Virginia to take advantage of the longer serving hours.

"The idea is to decrease the number of drunk drivers on our roads," Unger said. "We don't want to attract drinkers from other states."

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Unger said his proposal has the support of the West Virginia State Police, which sees earlier bar closings as a way to cut down on the number of alcohol-related driving offenses.

"When the bars let out we see an influx of DUI's. As it is now, you have people drinking in other states then coming into West Virginia half tanked," said Sgt. Rob Blair of the Martinsburg detachment.

While voters would have the option of cutting off at alcohol sales at midnight, Unger said he would like to see a uniform 2 a.m. restriction that would place West Virginia bar owners on an even playing field with their counterparts in neighboring states.

"I don't want to put our bar owners at a disadvantage," he said.

Closing the bars at 2 a.m. would not be fair to bar owners or their patrons, said Bob Florance, owner of the Huddle Club in Kearneysville, W.Va.

Shift workers at area factories sometimes don't get off until midnight or 1 a.m. and need the extra time to enjoy their drinks and unwind, Florance said.

An earlier cutoff time would slice into Florance's business and might create the potential for more accidents by flooding area roadways with drivers at 2 a.m., he said.

"A lot of people spend that last hour (before 3:30 a.m.) drinking coffee before they get ready to go home," he said.

Tackett's Pub owner Sandy Unger, however, said the 2 a.m. limit is a good idea and doesn't think it would hurt business.

"By the time it gets to be 3:30 a.m. nobody has any business being out on the road," she said.

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