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Whitmer signs off on to-go cocktails, other bar and restaurant relief legislation

The move came hours before the governor announced her order to shutdown indoor service at lower Michigan bars.

LANSING, Mich. — Wednesday morning, the governor signed off on several bills offering relief to bars and restaurants that have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic. 

The legislation was signed into law just before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would announce an order to shut down indoor bar service in lower Michigan. 

The package of bills allows for a number of efforts to assist bars and restaurants, including:

  • The sale of to-go cocktails through 2025
  • Two-for-one pricing on drinks sold in licensed establishments
  • Raises the current 17% discount on spirits purchased from the state by an on-premises account to 23% for the next 12 months 
  • Allows small distilleries to sell drinks to go and samples in the licensed establishments
  • Allows local governmental units to establish social districts with a common area that multiple on-premises licensees can use to increase sales via permit until Dec. 31, 2024

RELATED: Indoor bar service to cease in much of lower Michigan, Whitmer orders

Senate Bill 942, House Bill 5811 and House Bill 5781 were all signed Wednesday and received praise from business owners and the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association. 

“The MLBA, its members and all 8,500 licensees throughout the state have something to be excited about today,” said MLBA Executive Director Scott Ellis in a statement. “We would like to thank Governor Whitmer, Senator Nesbitt, Representative Webber and Representative Anthony for their focus and hard work for bringing these ideas to fruition in a timely manner.”

But, hours later that tone would change as the news came that indoor service would be shutdown in all but two regions of the state. 

“The governor has effectively hurt every local small-town bar in the state – establishments that aren’t the bad actors,” said Ellis, in a press release. “Instead of focusing on problem bars or problem areas, she’s going to kill businesses that are abiding by all of the rules and still struggling to survive. It seems like 70 was chosen as an arbitrary percentage that holds no validity in terms of safety.”

The governor said the action was necessary to protect the progress made by the state in curbing the spread of coronavirus. 

“Following recent outbreaks tied to bars, I am taking this action today to slow the spread of the virus and keep people safe. If we want to be in a strong position to reopen schools for in-person classroom instruction this fall, then we need to take aggressive action right now to ensure we don’t wipe out all the progress we have made," Whitmer said in a statement. 

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