Squadron looks to clean up liquor laws

The State Senate passed two bills this month to clarify vague provisions in the laws governing liquor licenses.

State Sen. Daniel Squadron, who sponsored the bills, hopes they will make the State Liquor Authority’s decisions more consistent. The bills have sponsors in the Assembly but have not yet come to a vote there.

Squadron’s first bill relates to the 500-foot rule, which triggers a public hearing whenever a new bar seeks a liquor license within 500 feet of three or more existing establishments with liquor licenses. The State Liquor Authority is only supposed to grant a new license under the 500-foot rule if the new license in the public’s interest — a broad term that is not clearly defined, though the law lists several factors the S.L.A. could consider, including noise and parking impacts.

Squadron’s bill requires that that the S.L.A. consider each of those factors, and adds in two additional ones: the applicant’s history with community boards and any past building or fire-safety violations the applicant has received at other establishments.

“There’s no question this is an improvement,” said Squadron, a former bar owner. “However, there’s also no question that in defining public benefit and ensuring consistency in the way the S.L.A., the community and the applicants interact, there’s still more to do.”

The chief problem is that unlike many other state agencies, the State Liquor Authority cannot make its own rules, but relies on the Legislature, Squadron said.

Squadron’s other S.L.A. bill this month would close a loophole in the 500-foot rule and the 200-foot rule, which prohibits new liquor licenses within 200 feet of a school or a place of worship. The law currently measures the 200 or 500 feet starting at the new bar’s front door, and Squadron said bar owners have moved their doors to skirt the law. His bill requires all measurements for future liquor licenses to be made from the property line instead. The new restriction would not apply to anyone who has already applied for a license.

— Julie Shapiro