BALTIMORE — On Monday afternoon the Baltimore County Liquor Board heard from local restaurants and bars, urging them to once again allow “to-go” cocktails for carryout or delivery.
The board voted unanimously to immediately resume the widely successful program that was approved by the state legislature during the COVID-19 pandemic, but expired July 1.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski had been in support of its continuation.
“As we continue our recovery, we must do all we can to help our small businesses innovate and diversify their operations,” Olszewski said. “This is another commonsense step to support the continued recovery of this hard-hit industry and we applaud today's decision.”
Olszewski added that he even took advantage of the program while it lasted, "I supported some of my my great local establishments, not just getting food, but the occasional Orange Crush as well."
State senator Shelly Hettleman, who authored the bill that would allow counties to make the policy permanent, says, she also took advantage;
"I'm not a big drinker. So I haven't used it too much. But I do one occasion right now I'm thinking of I definitely used it with my pizza. And it was a specialty cocktail that this establishment offered. And I had a drink to go with it."
The History of the Alcohol To Go Policy
On May 12, 2020, Governor Larry Hogan signed an emergency order to allow people to get mixed drinks, without needing to sit in a packed bar.
The idea allowed people to partake, while social distancing and reducing the spread of COVID-19.
Businesses and state legislators say, they found this policy to be a safe alternative, and a lifeline for bars and restaurants.
"The Governor through his executive making authority allowed them to continue, in some cases, and in some cases, gave them new authority to be able to permit folks who were coming to purchase food to take to go drinks with them," says Senator Hettleman.
The General Manager at Charles Village Pub in Towson, agrees.
"It obviously gives us another revenue stream," says Nick Zahrisky.
And as legislators prepared for the General Assembly session, Senator Shelly Hettleman pre-filed a bill that would allow Counties to make this new revenue stream an option for businesses.
Senate Bill 205 was filed in November of 2020, and had its first reading in the General Assembly in mid-January.
The bill eventually passed the Senate 46-1, with Democrat Benjamin Kramer of Montgomery County casting the only 'nay' vote.
In mid-April, the House of Delegates voted to pass the bill, with only 2 'nays.'
Republican Delegate Rick Impallaria, representing parts of Baltimore and Harford Counties and Democrat Jay Jalisi, who's district is entirely in Baltimore County were the only ones to vote against.
Just over a year after creating the executive order, Governor Hogan signed the bill into law, on May 18, 2021.
And on July 1st, both the original order expired and the new law went into effect.
"What we did is we gave the authority to the local board of liquor license commissioners in each community to create the rules for themselves," says Sen. Hettleman. "We've kind of created the overall parameters, and then each local establishment can look at how you know what rule-making they want to do for their local community."
This led to the gap many counties are now in.
"Of course, we want it back in place." says Zahrisky.