TIM SKUBICK: Potential legislation could kill 'Blind Pigs'

Popular wisdom being what it is, the allow-the-bars-to-stay-open-til-4 a.m. bill has all but been declared DOA. Except “Dr.” Virgil Smith is in the E.R. with his paddles trying to keep it alive.

“I believe that we will get it done,” Sen. Smith (D-Detroit) optimistically predicts the patient will survive.

He’s working against long odds as this 4.a.m. bar bill has been in and out of the legislative hopper since 2003, and it’s never seen the light of day.

But now comes Mr. Smith goes to Lansing to work a deal with the Michigan Municipal League to give local governments veto power. That means that state government would not have any influence on which bars get the green light for late night boozing. They’ll duke it out on the local level instead.

The MML and the senator are working on new safeguard language that creates all sorts of hoops for bar owners to navigate as the senator observes, “it’s not going to be a simple license to receive” not to mention the $10,000 price tag to obtain one. About $8,500 of that would go to the cops to provide more surveillance which makes you wonder, if this is such a great idea, why the need for beefier security?

The public arguments have centered on the economic benefits. Supporters point to New York, Chicago and other big towns where the younger class, who can apparently sop-it-up until four and get up at six to go to work, thrive on the extended hours.

The casinos in Detroit envision the same thing. Nothing like a really drunk patron slipping that credit card into what used to be one-armed bandits to drive up the profit margin.

Meanwhile the killjoys/opponents are worried sick about more drunks on the roads. The Michigan Alcohol Policy folks reference scientific “research” that suggests “bad things” happen although the “research” is not included in the news release.

They also argue the pedestrian death rate will increase, and it’s already the highest in the state in Detroit.

Sen. Smith has digested all this back and forth but has a hidden agenda for still pushing the bill.

Blind Pigs.

For the unsophisticated drinker, those are the after-hours illegal watering holes that tend to pop up in Detroit and elsewhere.

The senator knows that when the regular bars cry “last call” at 2 a.m., the folks “flood into the streets” and many head for the Blind Pigs.

And the senator also knows “all types of danger can happen there” from murders to riots which happened in 1967. The Detroit cops raided a B.P., and all hell broke loose as the city burned for days, the body count reached 43 and National Guard tanks rolled in to restore the calm.

So following that logic, if you eliminate the Blind Pigs, the police are freed-up to arrest drunks for legal drinking instead of after-hour illegal drinking. The difference?

Back in the legislative arena, the senator reports he and the League are very close on this “permissive” language and while it’s still a long shot, no pun intended, “I’m very hopeful … that we can get something together that is acceptable.”

The Detroit lawmaker may have found an important friend. The Senate GOP leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) seems sympathetic.

“In certain districts, it’s possible,” he suggests. He predicts most mom and pop bars will shut down at 2 a.m. and therefore the state will not be inundated with 4. a.m. joints all over the place.

“I’m leaning toward a yes,” he confides. Let’s see, that makes at least two yes votes.

Tim Skubick is Michigan’s Senior Capitol correspondent and has anchored the weekly public TV series Off the Record since 1972. He also covers the Capitol and politics for WLNS-TV6 in Lansing.