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Lawmaker wants local control over last calls

November 11, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Berkeley County lawmaker said Thursday he will try again this year to convince his colleagues in the West Virginia Legislature to pass a law that will allow county government to regulate how late local bars may sell alcohol.

Del. Vic Roberts, R-Berkeley, said he is pushing for the new law because of concerns about people who come to local bars after nightclubs in neighboring states have closed.

Bars in Virginia and Pennsylvania stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m., but nightclubs in West Virginia can serve until 3:30 a.m., Roberts told the Berkeley County Commission.

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Maryland has a "local option" on when bars can close, Roberts said.

Intoxicated people from other states often come to local bars and become involved in incidents that result in property damage and injuries, Roberts said.

Under a bill introduced by Roberts and three other local lawmakers in the last legislative session, county commissions in counties that border other states would be allowed to set a closing time for bars that is no later than closing times in neighboring states.

House Bill 2899 was referred to the House Judiciary Committee last session, but was not acted on, Roberts said.

Roberts said he plans to seek passage of the bill again in the upcoming session of the Legislature, which starts Jan. 11.

Berkeley County Commission members said they support the idea.

County Commission President Steve Teufel said he thinks the commission should be allowed to control closing times for bars because it represents a "quality of life" issue.

Besides, having bars open later in the county means higher operation costs for law enforcement who have to respond to alcohol-related incidents, Teufel said.

Commission member Ron Collins said the cutoff hour of 2 a.m. in Virginia and Pennsylvania bars is "late enough to be drinking."

"I don't see any downfall," Commission member Howard Strauss said of the proposal.

Roberts said he thinks the chances for the bill passing the Legislature are slim and told commission members that state officials are concerned about loss of revenue.

If bars closed an hour and a half early, state officials are concerned about people not being able to play state-controlled video lottery machines in bars during that period, which would cut into state profits from the machines, Roberts said.

"I thought that (concern) was misplaced. I think we ought to be concerned about life and property damage," Roberts said.

The proposal is not getting any support from Wendy Keller, an employee at Kitzie's Restaurant and Lounge Club on Rock Cliff Drive.

Although Kitzie's usually serves alcohol until 3 a.m. on weekends, the bar does not attract people from out of state because it is a neighborhood lounge, Keller said.

"I don't think it's right or fair," Keller said of Roberts' proposal.

Having a later cutoff time for alcohol in West Virginia allows people one more chance to meet someone in a bar or get something to eat, said Gus Kritikos, co-owner of Margarita's, formerly Maverick's Nite Club, along U.S. 11 north of Martinsburg.

"It's a money maker," Kritikos said of the later closing time.

But Kritikos declined to say whether he would oppose Roberts' bill, only saying "we will miss" the later cutoff hour if it is eliminated.

Roberts said his constituents are concerned about the number of bars in Berkeley County, although there is little that can be done about that issue. Roberts represents southern Berkeley County and said his constituents are primarily concerned about people coming into the county from bars in Virginia.




Last calls



Cut-off times for bars and restaurants in the area:

Virginia: 2 a.m.

Pennsylvania: 2 a.m.

Maryland: Varies by locality

West Virginia: 3:30 a.m.

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