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A bill that’s good for businesses but bad for human lives

How would you feel if we got into an endless war that every year claimed thirty thousand lives? Not just the lives of soldiers, either. You might go to the store, and never come back. Or your children might be killed going to soccer after school. Well, we do have something going on like that, and have had for a century. I am talking about deaths from auto accidents.

Actually, thanks to seat belts and safety glass, we have far less human road kill than we used to. But there’s a new bill in the Michigan senate that promises to increase the number of highway fatalities.

The bill, proposed by State Senator Virgil Smith of Detroit, would allow bars and restaurants in so-called central business districts to keep serving alcohol till four in the morning. That makes sense only if you want more people killed on their way to work early in the morning.

Actually, this idea is crazy, though I am sure the liquor lobby is very grateful to Senator Smith for pushing it. Two years ago, for the first time in modern history, the number of drunken driving deaths fell slightly below 10,000. Still, 255 lives were lost because of drinking and driving in Michigan alone in that single year.

The Senate Regulatory Reform Committee held hearings on this bill yesterday, and to my surprise, some people I normally respect embarrassed themselves.  State Senator Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor reportedly said this was one of the best-drafted bills on the issue that she had ever seen. Warren’s district includes both Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan. Does she think college students need more opportunity to abuse alcohol?

On the other hand, I don’t often agree with State Senator Rick Jones of Grand Ledge. But he’s on the side of the angels here. He said he would vote no, and when Senator Smith told him the bill would require bars wanting to stay open till 4 am to pay a $10,000 annual fee, Senator Jones responded that no fee could be high enough.  I suspect Jones gets it because he used to be a sheriff.

As the police chief of Ferndale noted, this would be a recipe for “more individuals drinking and driving and getting into bar fights.” A group called Michigan Alcohol Policy Promoting Health and Safety said, “this is a law that will promote heavy use of alcohol, cater to people already in trouble with alcohol and endanger many innocent people.” There’s no doubt about that. Why would the lawmakers even think about this? Because there is a whole lot of money to be made by people who might donate to their campaigns.

Nico Gatzaros, who owns restaurants in Detroit, wants to sell alcohol into the wee hours, “We have so many things going on that this could help – the casinos, hotels, limousine and taxi industries.” He should have added funeral homes.

This is the kind of bill politicians like to pass when they think you aren’t looking. If you don’t want to lose someone to a drunk driver, you might let your senator know you are watching.   

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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