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Foes Derail All Night Liquor Permit Legislation Aimed to Boost Convention Business
 at Big-city Texas Hotels; Intent Was to Level Playing Field with
 New Orleans, Las Vegas

By Karen Brooks, The Dallas Morning NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Mar. 28, 2007 - AUSTIN -- Legislation that would do away with last call at big-city hotels in Texas is on the rocks.

The bill, filed by a Houston Democrat who called it "an economic-development tool," failed 73-64 -- after a colorful debate on the House floor that invoked such notable populations as Sunday-schoolers and drunken lawmakers.

The Sunday-school argument prevailed, at least for this round.

"I don't know," said a surprised Rep. Harold Dutton, the bill's sponsor, when asked what happened to his legislation. "I think the Religious Wrong showed up."

Technically, he's referring to the religious right. And yes, they showed up.

"On a Sunday morning, when most of us are going to church, these people will be coming out of the hotel bar drunk as coots, killing us and our kids," said Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land. "Are you trying to put more drunk people out there? Is that your intent, Mr. Dutton? ... Maybe Mr. Dutton's heard complaints about not being able to get drinks after 2 a.m. I'm never up at 2 a.m., so I haven't heard them."

Mr. Dutton's stated intent was to let cities vie for convention business against places like Nevada and Louisiana, home to two of the biggest party cities on Earth: Las Vegas and New Orleans.

The bill would let hotels in metropolitan areas apply for all-night mixed-beverage permits that would allow drinks to be served past the 2 a.m. last call, but only to hotel guests and only in hotels that have 100 or more rooms.

Guests would have to pay the bar tab on their hotel bill when they check out.

Mr. Dutton offered an example of a hotel in Houston that would like to host a convention and serve drinks to its conventioneers into the wee hours -- instead of forcing them to drink alone from the mini-bars in their rooms, which are available to guests 24 hours a day already.

He tried to get fellow lawmakers on board by striking a personal note he hoped would ring a little louder than the church bells.

"Say it's the NCSL convention," he told colleagues, referring to the National Convention of State Legislatures, well-attended by lawmakers every year. "A number of y'all like to go to bars, and I'll admit, I have, too."

Mr. Howard and Rep. Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, weren't buying it. They said the measure would circumvent local liquor laws, give hotels too much leeway and be hard to enforce.

Plus, all that overnight drinking would pull in only $55,000 a year in permit money, according to the fiscal note attached to the bill -- not nearly enough to justify such 24-hour debauchery, they said.

But while the bill may be unconscious and its support slightly unsteady, Mr. Dutton said that at some point, it'll be ready for the next round. He's going to try to bring it back, he said.

"Don't assume the bill is dead until I kill it," he said.

-----

Copyright (c) 2007, The Dallas Morning News

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