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Closing-time bill advances

March 24, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The latest attempt to give cities and counties in West Virginia the power to stop the flow of alcohol at clubs and taverns at an earlier hour still is facing resistance in the state Legislature, but a current bill has made it further in the legislative process than in years past.

"They're fighting us tooth and nail," state Sen. John Unger said Monday of the bill he and Sen. Edwin Bowman, D-Hancock, sponsored this year.

As amended in the Government Organization Committee that Bowman chairs, Senate Bill 535 only would allow local governments in the Northern and Eastern panhandles to enact ordinances that cease "selling, giving or dispensing" of alcohol at 2 a.m.

Alcohol now can be served in West Virginia establishments until 3 a.m., which Unger said is attracting residents of neighboring states where closing hours are earlier and increasing the risk for Eastern Panhandle residents to fall victim to DUI-related accidents and other crimes.

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The bill was to be read for the second of three times on the Senate floor on Monday, but instead was "laid over," delaying a possible vote on the legislation by at least a day.

SB 535 would not apply to the state's four racetracks, including Charles Town Races & Slots, but Unger said he doesn't believe they have been a problem for law enforcement.

"Right now, we have a lot of bars that law enforcement cannot monitor," Unger said.

Unger said Berkeley County had one of the few Sheetz stores in the state that wasn't open 24 hours because it had become a popular stop for "drunks" after the bars closed.

"This is ridiculous; we've got to get some control over it," Unger said. "I'm tired of the people of the Eastern Panhandle getting injured (in these situations)."

The bill would apply to governments in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties, and the Northern Panhandle counties of Brooke, Hancock and Ohio.

The current legislative session ends April 11 at midnight.

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