What difference does an hour make?
That's the question for several Omaha metro-area cities as they weigh the prospect of pushing bar closing times back to 2 a.m.
For decades, Nebraska's bar closing time has been 1 a.m. In Iowa and other bordering states, alcohol sales are allowed until 2 a.m.
The Nebraska Legislature voted in April to allow the later closings, leaving it up to cities and counties to decide whether to change their closing times. A two-thirds supermajority is needed to approve a local change.
If a local governing body approves the change to a 2 a.m. closing, each bar or restaurant in that jurisdiction would decide whether to stay open that late or continue to close at 1 a.m. or earlier.
The new law takes effect in mid-July.
In Douglas and Sarpy Counties, one city council has approved the change, one has discussed it at a meeting, and three more are scheduled to take up the issue this month.
The Gretna City Council has already approved a 2 a.m. bar closing. The council voted after discussing it at a May 4 meeting.
Gretna Mayor Sally McGuire said she hopes to see a consistent closing time in all of Sarpy's cities.
The La Vista City Council started discussing the issue on May 18 and is expected to take it up again this month.
La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten said during the May meeting that he didn't see a later closing time as having much effect on the number of drunken drivers on the roads. He said the La Vista Police Department already sees a higher incidence of drunken driving between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.
Several members of La Vista's council favored later bar hours to keep customers from traveling to other cities after 1 a.m.
La Vista City Administrator Brenda Gunn said keeping the laws between bordering cities similar is important. She said the United Cities of Sarpy County, made up of the mayors of each of the county's cities, would probably discuss the issue soon.
Papillion and Omaha are to consider proposals at June council meetings.
Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle in April asked the City Law Department to draft an ordinance allowing the extra hour for alcohol sales. A public hearing on the proposal is set for June 8; the City Council could vote as soon as June 15.
In Omaha, five council votes would be needed to meet the two-thirds supermajority requirement.
Papillion City Councilman Brian Liesveld offered an ordinance to extend bar hours to 2 a.m. at Papillion's Tuesday council meeting.
Papillion Councilman Troy Florance said in an interview before the meeting that he didn't have a problem with the idea but thought later bar hours would be more of a benefit in Omaha, where bar owners compete with Council Bluffs' 2 a.m. closing time.
“For many Omaha bar owners, the extended time would provide a real economic opportunity,” Florance said.
“I'm not sure how much incremental revenue Papillion bar owners would see from staying open one hour longer. On the surface, one additional hour doesn't look to offer an economic boom to the city.”
Papillion Police Chief Leonard Houloose, like La Vista's Lausten, didn't see a later closing time as having a big impact on his department.
“We'd just continue to urge people to drink responsibly, use a designated driver and remember that our officers are on patrol and watching for impaired drivers at 2 a.m. just like they do at 1 a.m.,” Houloose said.
Springfield Mayor Dorothy Richards said the later closing time is on the agenda for discussion at the City Council's June 15 meeting.
Though the councils of Bellevue and Ralston have not addressed the issue, later closing times are on the radar of city officials there.
Bellevue Police Chief John Stacey said his department is neutral on the subject, pointing out that most of his officers' problems with drunken drivers occur before 1 a.m.
Ralston officials apparently are waiting to see what Omaha's stance will be before taking any action.
“It would seem that if Omaha does it, we're kind of forced to do it, too,” Councilman Rich Onken said. “We'll probably take some heat from our local businesses if we see Omaha pass it and we don't.”
Officials in Waterloo and Valley said nothing has come up yet on the issue.
Waterloo Councilman Stan Benke Jr. said the council has not discussed the subject. He also said no businesses have come forward to ask that the later closing time be adopted. The town has four liquor licenses: two for bars and two for restaurants.
Valley Mayor Mary Caffey said a later closing time has not been discussed and there has been no attempt to put it on a council agenda. She said he hadn't heard any talk about adopting the later closing time, and she noted that Valley has just one tavern.
Neither the Sarpy County Board nor the Douglas County Board has a proposal pending.
World-Herald staff writer Kevin Cole contributed to this report.