Rep. Oliver Olsen, I-Londonderry, pushed for the measure, seeking to add it as an amendment to a bill up for action on the House floor.
“Many of you may or may not realize that happy hour is actually illegal in Vermont,” he said to fellow lawmakers. “As a restaurant or bar you cannot offer discount alcoholic beverages over a few hours a day.”
Allowing venues to offer specials on alcoholic beverages, he said, is an economic issue, particularly for the parts of Vermont dependent on tourism.
“Vermont is a tourist destination, and increasingly a culinary destination,” Olsen said, adding that the craft beer industry in the state continues to grow.
The House shot the amendment down, with 69 representatives opposing it and 49 in favor. A voice vote did not yield a clear result, so members had to stand and be counted whether they were in support or against the legislation.
It didn’t appear to be a partisan issue. Many members of different political parties stood both for and against the amendment.
In addition to Olsen, others signing as sponsors of the amendment included Democrats, Republicans and Progressives.
The bill, H.238, to which he tried to attach the one-paragraph amendment deals with the “modernization” and “reorganization” of statutes regarding alcoholic beverages.
The House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs had worked on those changes before recommending the bill’s approval on the floor. The full House OK’d it Thursday.
Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, the committee’s vice chair, told his fellow representatives Thursday that the legislation was mainly aimed at technical changes to existing statutes and taking into account current practices.
“We tried to limit our substantive changes,” Stevens said.
He said the legislation didn’t seem to be a good fit for an amendment to legalize happy hour. He said the committee had earlier taken up Olsen’s proposed amendment and voted against supporting it.
Stevens said the committee tried to find out why and when happy hour was outlawed but hadn’t yet found the answers. He added that it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the conversation over whether happy hour ought to be legal in Vermont, but more research was needed.
The amendment would have applied to taverns, restaurants, bars and other entities holding a first-class liquor license.
It called for allowing the sale of beer or wine at a “temporarily reduced price” for not more than two hours a day. The beverage, however, could not be sold below its wholesale value.
“In other words,” Olsen said, “it couldn’t be a loss leader.”