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Committee Advances Houghtaling, Downey & Mukherji Bill Allowing Municipalities to Continue Use of Designated Outdoor Areas for Alcohol Consumption

In response to COVID-19 safety concerns, certain New Jersey towns took steps last year to support small businesses by allowing the consumption of alcohol outdoors. A bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Eric Houghtaling, Joann Downey and Raj Mukherji seeks to allow municipalities to designate outdoor areas in which people can consume alcohol going forward. The legislation was advanced by the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee on Monday.

In May 2020, a law was passed to temporarily allow businesses such as restaurants and distilleries to deliver alcoholic beverages and sell them for off-premises consumption even if their liquor license would normally permit the sale of alcohol for on-premises consumption only. These permissions were granted in an effort to help food and beverage establishments generate revenue while indoor dining was limited due to the pandemic.

In response to customers being permitted to take out alcoholic beverages from these businesses, several municipalities decided to temporarily allow the consumption of alcohol in designated areas outdoors, such as boardwalks and specific streets.

The bill (A-5554/S-2921) would provide municipalities the authority to designate outdoor areas in which members of the public can drink alcohol. These would be known as open container areas.

“After the economic hardships imposed by the pandemic, we should encourage an idea that could bring in visitors to patronize local enterprises,” said Assemblyman Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “We must authorize municipalities to pursue creative ways such as this to support the small businesses in their communities.”

Under the legislation, any municipality interested in designating a specific outdoor area for the consumption of alcohol would be required to hold a public hearing first to discuss the merits of establishing the open container area.

“Our state responsibly altered many policies and procedures during the pandemic in order to keep residents safe while helping establishments stay in business,” said Assemblywoman Downey (D-Monmouth). “Residents and visitors alike have appreciated the opportunity to drink in outdoor areas where they can take in the nice weather and views. If towns decide it would be advantageous to allow adults to responsibly consume alcoholic beverages in designated outdoor areas, they should be permitted to do so.”

“New Jersey restaurants need our assistance as they recover economically from the global pandemic, and folks who have been cooped up should be able to responsibly imbibe outdoors,” said Assemblyman Mukherji (D-Hudson). “Allowing our cities and towns to authorize alcohol consumption in specific outdoor zones will be a boon to these small businesses as we emerge from this crisis.”

The measure now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.