Political VIPs and others attending the Republican and Democratic national conventions recently were free to get liquored up a little longer and call Uber or Lyft for a ride back to their hotels, thanks to some special exemptions passed by the host cities of Cleveland, Ohio and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Somehow, the cities did not break out into chaos as a result, so why were such laws needed in the first place?
Like California, alcohol normally cannot be sold after 2 a.m. in Cleveland or Philadelphia, but drinking hours were extended to 4 a.m. in bars, restaurants, hotels and event spaces that secured special temporary permits. And it was only about a week and a half before the Democratic National Convention that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill allowing ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft to operate in Philadelphia during the convention and through at least September 30, while demanding that they fork over 1 percent of their gross receipts to the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which oversees taxi and limousine services in the city, for the privilege.
A little more than a month before the DNC, Philadelphia passed a law introduced on behalf of Mayor Jim Kenney that decriminalized a number of nuisance violations, including disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, failure to disperse and obstructing a highway or other public passage. Though, unlike the other measures taken, this law persists after the convention-goers and protestors have left and was intended to help the city meet a goal of reducing its prison population by one-third, it was certainly pushed through with the upcoming convention in mind, perhaps to keep rowdy "Bernie Bros" from crowding city jails. As a result, 103 protestors who likely would have otherwise been arrested instead received $50 fines.
"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?" Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes in a recent post for Reason.com. She continued: "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."
While we are encouraged that the victimless crimes of drinking and hiring someone to give one a ride were decriminalized, if only for a short time, it is maddening that such laws make criminals out of those who do no harm to others every other day of the year. These temporary exemptions also underscore that laws may be bent or broken without consequence by the important people in politics, while the rest of us are made to suffer without mercy under the harsh rules they impose.
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Photo credit: Eugene Kim