AUGUSTA — The Legislature passed a bill Thursday that will allow bars and restaurants to serve alcohol as early as 6 a.m. on St. Patrick's Day when it falls on a Sunday.
The measure, passed under an emergency preamble, had been a source of controversy and was criticized by Republicans because it was moving faster than bills that would pay off the state's $484 million debt to hospitals.
The Maine House passed the alcohol bill on a vote of 105-32. To pass as emergency legislation, which allows the law to take effect immediately, the bill needed support from two-thirds of the Legislature, which it had.
The bill is on its way to the desk of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who twice has held the measure up as an example of the Legislature moving fast when it wants to. The governor has threatened to veto any bill sent to him before the Legislature takes any meaningful action on the hospital debt.
But Thursday, Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, the St. Patrick's Day bill sponsor, said he had assurances from LePage that he would allow the bill to become law, in time for St. Patrick's Day this Sunday.
"He shook my hand and said he would pardon St. Patrick," Hobbins said after the Senate passed the bill 29-5. "The governor's a man of his word, so that's good enough for me."
House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, said that while lawmakers had not settled on how to pay the hospital debt, Republicans and Democrats were closer to an agreement.
“The agreement that Republicans and Democrats reached Monday, that the hospitals should indeed be paid, made this bill much more palatable to us and to the governor, I’m sure,” Fredette said in a prepared statement.
LePage said he intended to sign the bill into law later Thursday.
“Mainers know that I am a man of my word," LePage said in a prepared statement. "I am always open to reasonable suggestions. I’m pleased to sign this bill as a gesture of goodwill and as a supporter of Maine’s fine establishments that wish to open earlier on St. Patrick’s Day.”