Editorial: No free drinks – period!

There’s a reason why so-called ‘Happy Hours’ have been banned in Massachusetts since 1984. We hope that our state lawmakers and the governor will remember that as they consider an ill-advised push from the State Senate that would restore free or discounted drink specials in bars and restaurants statewide.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), was tacked onto the larger casino bill as a way, he claims, to mitigate the impacts on small businesses since casinos will also be allowed to give away drinks in the current incarnation of the bill.

That provision is also wrong-headed and we hope it is taken out of whatever bill ends up on the governor’s desk. But two wrongs never make a right.

According to the State House News Service, the “beginning of the end” of the Happy Hour in Massachusetts can be traced to the parking lot of a Braintree mall on Sept. 9, 1983. That night, after she and her friends drank free pitchers of beer in a contest at the Ground Round, 20-year-old Kathleen Barry was killed when she was crushed by a joy-riding car driven by someone in her group who’d just consumed at least seven beers.

The public outcry that followed found an ally in then-Gov. Michael Dukakis, who regarded drunken driving as an “epidemic” at the time. According to a 2001 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 32,000 people died in drunken-driving accidents in 1982. The governor’s own brother, Steilan, was killed in a hit-and-run accident in 1973. “Just as galvanizing for Dukakis was a drunken-driving crash in Hyde Park that killed a family of four on Christmas Eve, just before his January inauguration,” the News Service reported.

“Right after my inauguration in 1983 we launched one of the toughest drunken-driving prevention and enforcement efforts in the country and cut the alcohol-related fatality rate on the commonwealth’s highways in half in eighteen months,” Dukakis said. “I guarantee you that if happy hours are restored, dozens of people will be killed or maimed on our highways because of it.”

Even Senator Hedlund, who sponsored last week’s amendment, told reporters that he would “prefer not to” have a Happy Hour at Four Square, his establishment in Weymouth.

If this is the kind of compromise that we as a Commonwealth must swallow in the rush to build casinos, then maybe it would be better for the Legislature and the governor to scrap the whole idea. We’ve already been told that we as a city can have no direct say in whether or not a casino can locate in our city. It is outrageous that this Legislature and our governor would even consider putting more innocent lives — our own and those of our children— in jeopardy by returning to this free-for-all culture that was clearly the trigger for carnage on our roadways.

There should be no free drinks – period! – offered through the casino bill and we appeal to our lawmakers and Governor Patrick to heed the warnings of Governor Dukakis — and make sure this does not happen.

– Bill Forry

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