AUGUSTA – A bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Sen. Louie Luchini, D-Ellsworth, to support small businesses in the food and beverage industry during the COVID-19 pandemic received a public hearing before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on Monday. LD 306, “An Act To Temporarily Waive Certain Requirements for Relicensing for Restaurants That Serve Liquor” is a temporary measure that would make it easier for restaurants and other small businesses that serve beer, wine or spirits to apply for or renew their restaurant license in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To me, this is a common-sense proposal that aims to support our breweries and restaurants, like First Mile Brewing in Fort Kent, who are finding creative ways to thrive and strengthen our economy as we begin to climb out of this pandemic,” said President Jackson. “Whether you are from Fort Kent or Kittery, you know that Maine is a small business state. Our small business owners take pride in their Yankee ingenuity and innovation, even in the most trying conditions. I urge the committee to join me in supporting this measure and give our renowned food and beverage industry the flexibility they need to keep their doors open.”
To obtain a restaurant license under current law, an establishment must have food available for sale (not including prepackaged snack foods), food must make up at least 10 percent of all sales, the on-hand inventory of food must equal $2 per seat in the establishment. This measure would temporarily waive the requirement that 10 percent of all sales must be in food for the renewal of licenses that expire before Jan. 1, 2022. President Jackson and Sen. Luchini introduced this measure after hearing from small businesses in their districts who expressed concern that meeting this requirement could prove a greater challenge due to COVID-19’s limitations on indoor dining.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created chaos throughout the entire economy but few industries have been hit as hard as the restaurant industry. Maine’s restaurants, brewpubs, breweries and distilleries have faced mandatory closures and capacity limits for close to a year in an effort to keep people safe. As a Legislature, we shouldn’t penalize restaurants whose business model has been turned upside down by the pandemic,” said Sen. Luchini. “This suite of bills to support Maine’s restaurant industry include simple one-time reforms to make it easier for these businesses to stay afloat as we get this crisis under control.”
LD 306 was heard alongside two other proposals from Sen. Luchini to support struggling small businesses in the food and beverage industry during this difficult economic period caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. LD 307, “An Act To Expand the Market for Maine Liquor Manufacturers” would allow licensed Maine manufacturers of spirits, wine and malt liquor to sell and ship their products to a person located in another state. Maine has become a hub for craft breweries and distilleries, attracting visitors from all over during the summer. In the absence of tourists, this bill will help craft breweries and distilleries to maintain and build their customer base.
LD 378, “An Act To Temporarily Waive Renewal Fees for On-premises Retail Liquor Licenses” temporarily waives fees for restaurants and other entities seeking renewal of a license to sell beer, wine or spirits for on-premises consumption from any license renewal fee in 2021.
All three bills will undergo additional work sessions in committee before moving to the floor of the Senate and House.