Cocktails are for sale to go at a bar and...

Cocktails are for sale to go at a bar and restaurant in Manhattan on March 19, 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Getty Images/Victor J. Blue

ALBANY – Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday proposed to permanently allow alcohol-to-go sales from bars and restaurants in a move that would cement one of the more popular innovations to come from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her measure is among the amendments to her budget proposal to the State Legislature presented in January. Negotiations will begin soon. The budget is due by April 1.

There was no immediate comment from the Democratic majorities of the Senate and Assembly.

Another amendment calls for tougher rules against the use of fake images through artificial intelligence, including use of AI in political campaigns. The amendment also would make it a misdemeanor for unauthorized uses of a person’s voice, allow for civil lawsuits over AI abuses and “deep fakes” and require disclosure on political communication if AI was used.

The alcohol-to-go measure was first enacted by former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to help keep restaurants in business during the state’s economic shutdown at the height of the pandemic. The practice has remained popular as many restaurants have continued take-out service.

"During the darkest days of the pandemic, to-go drinks were a critical lifeline for our hospitality industry and a beloved treat for consumers,” Hochul said. “Since then, we've legalized to-go alcohol on a temporary basis, and it's been wildly successful for bars, restaurants, and everyday New Yorkers. It’s long overdue to permanently legalize to-go drinks, and in this year's budget we're going to get the job done."

Last year, Hochul had sought to extend the temporary measure and to make it permanent. But in negotiations with the State Legislature she accepted a three-year extension and vowed to pursue a permanent law.

Hochul’s proposal is the latest of a series of measures she’s pushed to boost the hospitality industry to help recover from the pandemic and retain jobs.

But some say the boost for business also has a downside.

“While to-go drinks may have been wildly successful for bars and restaurants, it hasn't helped those New Yorkers who post-COVID are struggling with depression and anxiety and are self-medicating with booze,” said Jeffrey L. Reynolds, president and CEO of the Family and Children’s Association, a nonprofit social services agency based in Garden City. “Alcohol still kills more people than fentanyl and including more money in the budget for prevention, treatment and recovery support would better serve public health and safety.”

Hochul would continue provisions of the alcohol-to-go measure now in place. They include:

  • Alcohol-to-go sales must be part of a “substantial food item” and can’t be sold in retail containers such as wine or beer bottles. The containers must be sealed.
  • The containers must comply with local laws against open containers of alcohol.
  • Alcohol-to-go sales can only be made by restaurants with licenses to sell wine and alcohol and only within the legal operating hours of the county where the restaurant or bar is located.

Several of the measures were the result of negotiations based on concerns of liquor stores, whose owners feared the law could create unfair competition.

Restaurant and tavern owners are lobbying legislators to make the policy permanent.

“Drinks to-go was critically important during the pandemic and it’s been great for consumers and important for restaurants alike ever since,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. “Making this popular policy permanent makes sense, and is something we can all say ‘Cheers!’ to.”

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