AUGUSTA — Wearing a leprechaun party hat and smiling broadly, Maine Gov. Paul LePage signed a law Friday that allows the state's bars to serve alcohol starting at 6 a.m. on St. Patrick's Day, when it falls on a Sunday.
Otherwise, Maine law prohibits the sale of alcohol before 9 a.m. on Sunday.
The law passed by the Legislature on Thursday, under an emergency preamble, had been a source of controversy and was criticized by LePage and other 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. The Senate passed it 29-5. To pass as emergency legislation, which allows the law to take effect immediately, the bill needed support from two-thirds of the Legislature.
LePage, who had previously vowed to veto all bills that came to him before a plan for the hospital debt was agreed upon, said Thursday that signing the early-drinking bill was a goodwill gesture toward Democrats and in support of the state's bars and restaurants, some of which claimed St. Patrick's Day was their most profitable holiday.
Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, the bill's 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 told me he was going to give St. Patrick a pardon," Hobbins quipped Thursday, just after the Senate passed the bill.
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 written statement.