Happy Hour

Virginia Happy Hour (Finally) On the Brink of Being Freed

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We’ve extensively covered the lawsuit by the Pacific Legal Foundation that challenges Virginia’s law forbidding the advertising of happy hour specials by restaurants. While the case works its way through the courts, however, it appears that the Virginia legislature is on the brink of repealing the happy hour restrictions itself:

For the first time, Virginia pubs and restaurants may soon be able to plug their Margarita Mondays, Wine-down Wednesdays, and $5 Fiesta Fridays.

The Virginia state legislature gave initial approval Wednesday to House and Senate bills diluting the state’s tight laws on advertising happy-hour prices and catchy slogans, stepping up after a legal challenge filed by a popular local restaurateur.

Chef Geoff Tracy, who operates eateries in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit last year against the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Board wash away the old-fashioned advertising restrictions on First Amendment grounds…

The legislation allows liquor licensees to “advertise on or off the licensed premises and to advertise the prices of featured alcoholic beverages,” according to the legislative analysis, as well as “creative advertising marketing techniques, provided that such techniques do not induce overconsumption or induce consumption by minors.”

The identical bills breezed through their initial votes, with a 90-4 vote in the House and 40-0 in the Senate. The measures must still be read and voted on in the other chambers before going to Gov. Ralph Northam…

Read the rest here.

Virginia ABC Using Taxpayer Dollars to Defend Speech Censorship

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We have previously weighed in on the Pacific Legal Foundation’s legal challenge to Virginia’s happy hour advertising ban, which forbids restaurants in the commonwealth from publicly advertising drink specials and discounts. This week, PLF’s Anastasia Boden updated what’s been going with the lawsuit in the Washington Post, including describing how the state is using taxpayer dollars to be as intransigent as possible in defending its censorship:

It’s been almost a year since Geoff Tracy and his restaurant, Chef Geoff’s, filed a First Amendment lawsuit asking a federal court to strike down Virginia’s happy-hour advertising laws. In the Old Dominion, it’s legal for businesses to offer happy hour. It’s just illegal for them to talk about it. Those that dare to advertise the happy-hour price of a beer or use creative terms such as “Sunday Funday” to pitch the demon rum face big fines or a suspended permit from the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority. Virginia may be for lovers, but it’s not for lovers of free speech.

After many months of litigation, Tracy is eager to present his arguments to the court. Given clear Supreme Court cases declaring it unconstitutional to restrict people from communicating truthful information about their legal business practices, one might expect ABC and the attorney general’s office, which represents it, to have abandoned the policy of censorship. Instead, the two are doubling down on their efforts to defend Virginia’s paternalistic law, recently adding some of the state’s most senior government lawyers to the case and escalating fights in discovery — which needlessly intimidate plaintiffs and drive up everyone’s expenses. In what ought to be a simple case with nary a disputed fact, the government demanded several depositions of Chef Geoff’s employees, most of whom have nothing to do with the First Amendment case. They also sought thousands of pages in financial reports detailing the sale of every item sold by the hour — every hour going back six years — from nine restaurants (six of which aren’t even in Virginia). So far, Chef Geoff’s has produced more than 68,000 pages of sales information. ABC wants more.

Depositions and document requests are expensive and entail opportunity costs. Don’t high-level officials at the attorney general’s office have serious crimes to prosecute?…

Read Anastasia’s full piece here.