During the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia this week, select watering holes are enjoying a reprieve from some of the state's strict liquor laws and Uber X drivers are out and proud.
For convention week, Philly bars, restaurants, hotels, and event spaces were allowed to apply for permits granting them the privilege to serve thirsty politicos until 4 a.m.—last call is usually 2 a.m. The DNC host committee negotiated this late-night privilege for local businesses, payed the one-time application fee, and helped the city's Liquor Control Board review applications. At least 20 Philly venues were granted permission to stay open late.
Contra the regular rules, venues will also be able to serve wine and spirits from non-state sources from July 25-28. Generally, they must purchases these from pricey state-run stores. The state said the rule change allows venues to serve alcohol that has been donated and for out-of-towners to host events featuring booze from their home states.
Cleveland saw similar rule-bending when the Republican National Convention (RNC) came to town last week. More than 200 venues applied for a temporary extension of drinking hours from 2 a.m. until 4 a.m. These waivers were made possible by a January 2016 state law saying cities hosting "major events" could ask the Ohio Division of Liquor Control for a temporary out from the usual alcohol rules. For the RNC, individual businesses in and around Cleveland had to apply for extensions by March 21; those that were picked were vetted by local police and sheriff departments before having their info submitted to Liquor Control, which issued waivers in June.
It's not just booze getting a special dispensation during convention time. Earlier this month, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf approved a bill allowing ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in Philadelphia throughout the summer. Until recently, Uber X drivers could be found in Philly, but they were operating only semi-legally—city transit authorities even allegedly conducted stings on Uber X drivers.
Pennsylvania lifted anti-ridesharing rules for Philadelphia just in time for the Democratic convention. Under the approval, companies must pay 1 percent of gross receipts from fares to the city Parking Authority, which will then turn over two-thirds of this money to Philadelphia schools.
Kudos to Cleveland and Philadelphia for being adaptable and allowing temporary modifications that help convention-goers get around and get drunk. But if these cities can handle ridesharing and 4 a.m. last-calls at a time when tens-of-thousands of out-of-towners have descended, mightn't they be able to handle them when the hubbub dies down, too? Of course, for the DNC and RNC, we have powerful interests pressuring officials to suspend their nanny-statism for the common good. At most other times, we see pressure going the other way, with taxi cartels, state liquor agencies, and others invested in the status quo. The situations in Cleveland and Philadelphia are a good reminder that when it comes to things like occupational licensing, zoning laws, liquor regulations, and the like, "protecting public health/safety/morals" is very often code for making sure the system is rigged in the right way.