Baker skeptical on return of Happy Hours

BOSTON — Count Gov. Charlie Baker among those uninterested in reversing the state’s decades-old ban on “happy hour” drink promotions, even if that position makes him, as he put it, “a stick in the mud.”

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A MassINC Polling Group poll released Wednesday found that 70 percent of Massachusetts residents would support revival of happy hour specials for alcoholic beverages, and Rep. Mike Connolly filed a restaurant and bar relief bill (HD 3896) that would once again authorize the practice.

Baker on Thursday said he would be “hard-pressed” to support any proposal to bring back the discounted alcoholic drink specials, voicing concern they could lead to a spike in drunk driving incidents.

“I remember what was going on on the roads in Massachusetts when we had happy hours, and there were some awful, horrible, terrible experiences on a very regular basis that came with happy hours back in the day,” Baker said. “I know that probably makes me a stick in the mud to say such a thing, but I would start as a skeptic of going back to the way we ran happy hours.”

In 1984, after a string of deadly alcohol-involved crashes, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to ban happy hours.

Efforts to bring back happy hour specials have fallen short on Beacon Hill. Former Republican Sen. Robert Hedlund pushed to include the re-authorization as part of the casino bill in 2011, but he ultimately retreated after facing pushback and instead sought a study of state alcohol regulations.

“That law did not come about by accident,” Baker said of the original ban. “It came about because there was a sustained series of tragedies that involved both young and older people in some terrible highway incidents, all of which track back to people who had been overserved as a result of happy hours in a variety of places.”