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Wells Aims to Amend Extended Bar Hours for Inaugural

A D.C. Council member filed formal notice today that he intends to propose a new emergency law that would alter the terms of the council's legislation that extended the hours of operation for bars and nightclubs during inauguration week.

Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) was among the 9-4 majority that last week approved the bill that allows bars, nightclubs and restaurants to serve alcohol until 5 a.m. -- several hours later than normal -- and stay open all night from Jan. 17-21.

But Wells, in consultation with his colleagues, is crafting a revised bill that would roll back some of the new rules and set tougher restrictions on the nightlife establishments, his chief of staff Charles Allen said today. Wells filed notice in the D.C. registry to offer his emergency bill at Tuesday's council meeting.

Among the changes being considered, according to Allen:

* Rolling back alcohol service from 5 a.m. to 4 a.m., the same as New Year's Eve;
* Potentially excluding Sunday, Jan. 18, from the extended hours;
* Creating a registration date and nominal fee for establishments interested in staying open later.That would give police a list of places to monitor and force owners to make a decision before inauguration week begins.

"There's a lot on table," Allen said. "We haven't finalized the language. The council member is speaking to colleagues."

Also, council members said they did not intend for last week's legislation to over-ride the "voluntary agreements" many bar and nightclub owners have signed with neighborhood groups. Those agreements often set strict limits on such things as operating hours and live music.

The voluntary agreements are likely to remain enforceable, said Doxie McCoy, a spokeswoman for council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D).

The legislation was the idea of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, which brought it to the council. With more than 1 million people expected to come to Washington for inauguration week, restaurant, bar and nightclub owners stand to make healthy profits.

But this week, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Bob Bennett, who are on the committee that is planning President-elect Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony, sent a letter to Gray and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) objecting to the extended hours over concerns about public safety. The Downtown Cluster of Congregations, a non-profit ecumenical group, also has objected.

Today, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer, who is involved in security planning for the inauguration, said it was "crazy" to allow bars to stay open until 5 a.m.
"There's not much redeeming social value to be out drinking at 5 in the morning," said Gainer, former chief of the Capitol Police. "It creates more problems."

Fenty, who had been opposed to including nightclubs in the bill, has pledged to sign the legislation into law, saying it was the council's prerogative.

By David A Nakamura  |  December 11, 2008; 4:55 PM ET
Categories:  Inauguration  
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