Sens. Feinstein, Bennett Object to D.C. Inaugural Nightlife Legislation
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) are objecting to the emergency law approved by the D.C. Council last week that would allow city nightclubs, bars and restaurants to remain open all night and serve alcohol until 5 a.m. from Jan. 17-21.
In a letter to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), the senators write that they are "deeply concerned that the plan approved by the City Council could seriously strain law enforcement resources that need to be focused on the large crowds and security requirements of the Inaugural and its impact on the City."
Feinstein is the Chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC), and Bennett, is the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.
In a statement, Feinstein said: "What is clearly meant as a boon to local businesses may instead create tremendous problems for already overwhelmed law enforcement agencies."
Also, D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles has been asked to review the law after questions were raised about whether the new regulations can legally undo so-called "voluntary agreements" that many establishments have signed along with neighborhood groups.
Hundreds of nightclubs, bars and restaurants have consented to the agreements, which generally set more restrictive rules on such issues as hours of operation, whether they can play live music, and so on.
Neighborhood activists are demanding that the voluntary agreements remain enforced during inaugural week, saying they are akin to legally binding contracts. The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board this week asked Nickles to review the council's legislation and make a ruling. Nickles said he's also reviewing the endorsement applications that the nightclubs, bars and restaurants filed with the ABC board in order to get a license, as those applications also set certain restrictions.
"I'm looking at it," Nickles said. "I've got a variety of agreements, and they're not all the same. They cover a lot of establishments."
Denis James, head of the Kalorama Citizens Association, said: "The voluntary agreement rules in my opinion. They should stand. The only establishments that qualify for later hours are the ones that don't have voluntary agreements."
Fenty has not yet signed the council's legislation. Fenty (D) has said he supported extending service hours for bars and restaurants, but not for nightclubs. But the council voted 9-4 to include nighclubs anyway.
Nickles said he should have a decision this week.
(Read the full text of the letter from Feinstein and Bennett after the jump.)
Dear Mayor Fenty and Council Chairman Gray:
We are writing today to urge that City Council and the Mayor reverse emergency legislation approved by the Council last week that permits nightclubs, bars and restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages until 5 a.m. for four nights during the Inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th President.
With projections as high as 4 million people planning to visit the city during this time period, we are deeply concerned that the plan approved by the City Council could seriously strain law enforcement resources that need to be focused on the large crowds and security requirements of the Inaugural and its impact on the City.
There is great cause for celebration at this historic event. But we believe that the benefits of this emergency legislation, passed with little public notice, are far outweighed by its possible consequences.
We understand the pressures you face from the different constituencies in your city. But we also know the importance of standing firm to ensure the safety of residents, workers and visitors who will be in Washington, D.C., participating in this historic event."
Robert F. Bennett Dianne Feinstein
David A Nakamura
December 9, 2008; 5:35 PM ET
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