In the Doghouse

4 A.M. Bar Bill Plays CA for Fools

With Dirty Tricks and Deceit, Sen. Wiener and Allies Sneak SB 384 Through Committee

scott wiener looks tired because skullduggery is exhaustingThis is what it takes to shove an ugly bill through the California Assembly GO Committee:

  • engage in back-office sessions to create over a dozen hackneyed amendments to distract from official analyses revealing all the weaknesses of your bill.
  • throw ethics and responsible governance aside by changing the bill at the last minute, and voting on it before those changes can be seen by the public.
  • schedule a vote for the day after a national holiday, hoping your critics will be too tired to show up and oppose it.
  • ignore and distorting over 40 years of global, peer-reviewed public health research on the harms of your bill.
  • value the desires of lobbyists and industry players over the lives and health of your constituents.

On July 5th, supporters of SB 384—State Senator Scott Wiener’s bill to allow bars to stay open until 4 a.m.—passed the bill from committee. They did so despite a long line of local government, public health, law enforcement, and addiction services professionals speaking out against it. None of the other bills up for vote faced even a tenth of the opposition; none threaten to ramp up the levels of alcohol-induced harm and death the way SB 384 one does.

Senator Wiener and his allies should be ashamed. Extending last call times increases drinkers’ overall consumption, it adds fatigue to dangerous driving, and worst, it lets cities avoid responsibility for their own worst decisions. Its proponents extolled the “local control” aspects of the bill, but urban 4 a.m. entertainment zones will emanate dangerously intoxicated drivers into the surrounding suburbs. The city gets the tax revenue while the outlying communities get to scrub the blood off the highway.

When introducing his arguments, the Senator indicated that he knew the pain of dangerous driving first-hand, having lost an aunt in a DUI crash when he was 6 years old. Yet he immediately dismissed over 40 years of peer-reviewed medical research from multiple countries showing that last-call times affect automotive deaths. Instead, he brandished his own "study," one of such appalling quality—among other issues, he claims it "shows there is no correlation between last-call times and fatal accidents" when it makes no effort to show what happens when a state changes its last-call times*—that trying to publish it would end a scientist's career. Lucky for him, he is in politics; this is less lucky for the real lives that could be lost from this policy.

Worse, Senator Wiener and the Committee need to be held accountable for why it was necessary to unleash a flood of amendments up until the minute the bill was voted upon. The text of those amendments was not released to the public, leaving the open discussion one of shrugs and question marks. The people of California spoke out explicitly against this sort of legislative double-dealing when they voted for Prop 54, which requires that legislative bills be viewable by the public before they are passed. But since this only moved SB 384 out of committee, not onto the Assembly as a whole, Wiener felt he could ignore the spirit of transparency in favor of expedience. The sheer number of amendments, the rush job, and the cover-of-darkness nature of the hearing all suggest this bill could prove very unpopular.

The question is, will the problems be evident before the early morning wreckage mounts? After all, the bill can still be stopped in Assembly Appropriations, the general Assembly, or on the Governor’s desk. It could even be pulled by Senator Wiener, should he come to his senses. After all, either he feels pangs of regrets now for failing his voters, or feels those pangs in a couple years… for getting them killed.

*Note for our wonkier readers: Wiener's non-study "study" not only does not disprove correlation, it does not even include a correlation statistic. It is just an Excel spreadsheet with a cross-sectional presentation of different fatal crash rates in different states, and their last-call times. Not only does there seem to have been no effort to do a true causal analysis, there wasn't any analysis of any kind performed; we have no idea what the rates could be confounded by, nor what happens when you look at other indicators of alcohol harm and motor vehicle crashes. The data are not even sourced; while we like to think Sen. Wiener has the dignity to not actually make things up out of whole cloth, dignity certainly has not stopped him from exploiting the dead.

TAKE ACTION to stop the 4 a.m. bar bill.

about the hazards of extended last call times.