Assembly committee clears Mukherji bill to allow continued use of outdoor areas to consume alcohol

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The Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee cleared a bill sponsored by Joann Downey, Eric Houghtaling, and Raj Mukherji to allow municipalities to continue the use of outdoor areas for alcohol consumption.

Pier 13 in Hoboken. Instagram photo.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“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,” Mukherji said in a statement.

“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.”

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 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.

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.

“After the economic hardships imposed by the pandemic, we should encourage an idea that could bring in visitors to patronize local enterprises,” added Houghtaling, who along with Downey lost a re-election bid last month.

“We must authorize municipalities to pursue creative ways such as this to support the small businesses in their communities.”

The measure now heads to Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) for further consideration.