Sam Smith behind the bar at the St. Charles Lounge, Oct. 2016. (file photo)

Bars in Pierre now can serve liquor until 2 a.m. on Monday mornings, instead of shutting down at midnight Sunday, as the city’s ordinance now requires for hard liquor.

Now, as in May 18 when the new ordinance becomes effective; meaning the first Sunday that will have the extra two hours of serving whiskey, vodka and gin and such will be May 21. Although the extra two hours, of course, will be the first two hours of Monday, May 22.

The 5-0 vote to amend the city’s alcohol sales ordinance adds this paragraph: “Any establishment operating as an on-sale or off-sale licensee under an alcohol license within the city of Pierre may offer alcoholic beverages for sale on Sundays and Memorial Day between the hours of 7 a.m. and 2 a.m.”

Despite the Commission’s usual unanimity, there was some unusual public disagreement from a usual suspect on this particular issue:

Former City Commissioner Larry Weiss, retired from a career as a state transportation engineer, regularly appears before the Commission to speak against expanding the sale of alcoholic drinks. Last summer, for example, he spoke against the idea to allow more bars to serve on sidewalks outside their establishments.

“Well, mayor, I’m sure when you saw me. . you knew why I was here,” said Weiss to a smiling Mayor Laurie Gill as he walked up to the podium microphone.

The new ordinance, which now will be published on Friday and go into effect 20 days later, or May 18, will change the city’s closing time for serving hard liquor to 2 a.m.. from the current midnight.

Every other night of the week already bars can serve liquor until 2 a.m.

Beer license holders already can serve beer from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day of the week and on Memorial Day.

State law a few years ago allowed Sunday night closing at 2 a.m. Mondays for liquor, but the city’s ordinance didn’t change with it.

The new ordinance also will allow liquor sales on Memorial Day, which has been the only holiday in Pierre they are not allowed. Bars currently can serve beer and wine on Memorial Day.

“First of all, I don’t understand the ordinance,” Weiss said. “What is the difference if you sell beer or alcohol? People get just as drunk and cause just as many problems.”

Weiss is known for his work with Parents Matter to help keep young people from drinking.

“Since alcohol is the major contributing factor to more than half the police activities in Pierre, I just don’t understand why we want to expand alcohol sales more than we already have,” Weiss said.

The idea came up when Scott Schroeder, an owner of the Longbranch downtown on Pierre Street, asked City Finance Officer Twila Hight if the city could expand serving hours on New Year’s Eve this year, since it’s a Sunday. It’s difficult to shut down the partying right at midnight on New Year’s Eve, bar owners told her, Hight said.

It’s fairly rare: the last two New Year’s Eve Sundays were 2006 and 2000.

Her research and discussion with other city leaders led to the plan to revise the ordinance on Sunday serving, as well as adding liquor sales on Memorial Day, to follow state regulations.

In general, South Dakota cities can have more restrictive alcohol ordinances than state law, but not more expansive ones.

The new ordinance will make serving hours for liquor 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day of the year, in effect, Hight said;

Weiss said it maybe makes sense to expand New Year’s Eve serving hours on the rare times when the holiday falls on a Sunday. But not every Sunday, he said.

“I have a drink or a beer,” he said. “But only one. I just see no reason to continue to contribute to the alcohol problems that we already have.”

Schroeder attended Tuesday’s Commission meeting and jibed Weiss as the former Commissioner sat down from his time at the podium, “Larry , you made me speak,” as Schroeder went up to share his own thoughts.

“We are not going to stay open until 2 a.m. on Sundays, except for special events or during hunting season,” when hunters sometimes throw a party or want longer hours, Schroeder told the Commission. “I’m in favor of this, not so we can utilize it every week but so we can utilize it when we want to without coming to the city council every time.”

Commissioner Jim Mehlhaff told Weiss he respected his views and had also heard from another former City Commissioner with similar reservations about expanding liquor serving hours on Sunday.

But lining up the city’s ordinances with state law, as many other cities already have done, makes sense. And, like upping the speed limit to 80 mph on the state’s interstate highways doesn’t seem to really change people’s habits much, this won’t mean more drinking on Sunday nights for “99.99 percent” of people, Mehlhaff said.

In an unusual move, in fact, all five commissioners made their views known on the question, which doesn’t happen often. And they pretty much reflected Mehlhaff’s views.

New Commissioner Blake Barringer asked City Police Chief Dave Panzer to tell the Commission what he thought.

“We have had quite a bit of discussion about this,” Panzer told the Commission. Mostly, the new ordinance “mirrors state statutes,” and having that similarity makes the laws more clear and simple to follow, Panzer said.

“We’re comfortable with that. I don’t think we are going to have an increase in that on the law enforcement side.”

Mehlhaff asked if anyone knew what Fort Pierre’s closing hours were on Sunday, saying perhaps expanding Pierre’s might cut down on the bar rush moving across the MIssouri River at closing time in Pierre.

Fort Pierre’s bars can observe 2 a.m. closing under Mountain time, an hour later than the Central time in Pierre. Other than bar closing and election poll times, Fort Pierre observes Central time for practical reasons to jibe with its sister city.

It means that closing time in Fort Pierre can be 3 a.m., Central time, and makes it a truism that a number of drinkers regularly, at closing time in Pierre, move over to Fort Pierre, usually not returning with more sobriety than they left with.

“We have that concern every night,” Panzer said.

He doesn’t see the new ordinance as making that any worse, Panzer said.

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