In a room just down the hall from the Vermont House chamber on Thursday afternoon, caterers prepared a reception where lawmakers would be treated to beer, wine and snacks.
But inside the chamber itself, members busied themselves saying no to happy hour for the rest of Vermont. By a tally of 69-49, legislators voted down an amendment that would have changed state law and allowed bars to offer short-term drink specials.
Rep. Oliver Olsen (I-Londonderry), who represents several ski towns, sought to do away with the Puritan statute. Vermont is one of 11 states, including notoriously dry Utah, that don't allow happy hour, Olsen said.
click to enlarge
He called his amendment "an economic development issue," noting that Vermont is increasingly a culinary destination. His proposal would have allowed bars to offer discounts for two hours or less at a time on beer or wine, but not hard liquor.
Illinois made a similar change and increased its liquor tax revenues by $93 million in the first four months of 2016, Olsen said.
Olsen had tripartisan support, but the majority of the House balked — for what mostly appeared to be logistical reasons.
Rep. Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury) said the underlying bill that Olsen hoped to amend was limited to technical changes that needed to be made to state law. Lawmakers specifically avoided adding any substantive liquor law changes to prevent confusion or controversy, he said.
Stevens, vice chair of the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, said that deciding whether the state should permit happy hours would require more research. "It was clear we don't know when or why we stopped doing happy hour and why we would want to start," he said.
Stevens said the decision did not close the door on doing that research. And the panel will likely get the chance to try again. Within minutes of happy hour's defeat, Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe) was adding Olsen's provision to another pending liquor bill that would, among other things, allow breweries to sell kegs.
For now, happiness knows no hour. Drinks will continue to cost you the same no matter what time of day you belly up to the bar.