On November 17, Governor Chris Gregoire made Seattle's yearlong push for later bar service much harder—and likely killed the proposal altogether—by issuing a ban on "non-critical" government rule-making for the next year. While the moratorium is supposed to help small businesses (and the economy) by stabilizing regulations, one side effect is that it gives departments like the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) broad powers to say no to new rules.
"We're directed by the governor's office to suspend rule-making except in a few cases, such as when it protects public safety or addresses an emergency," says Brian Smith, spokesman for the WSLCB.
But here's a rule Seattle wants changed now: the requirement that liquor-service hours end at 2:00 a.m. "We think there's significant benefit for small businesses in the proposal, and we plan on submitting to the WSLCB for their consideration in January," says Aaron Pickus, spokesman for the mayor.
What are the chances the city can convince the WSLCB—a notoriously conservative agency—that current bar hours constitute an emergency that must be dealt with now, or that extending them would promote public safety?
"There's no doubt that there's going to be public debate over the value of [extending bar hours]," says Smith. And given that it will be hotly debated and that the WSLCB already has concerns about the public-safety impact of extending liquor service, "it's probably not the type of exception that meets the spirit of the executive order," Smith explains. In which case, he adds: "The city would be better off approaching the legislature."