MacNamara, Kupchick want to regulate hookah lounges

Fairfield-hookahlounges

Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara and state Rep. Brenda Kupchick testify in support of legislation that would regulate hookah lounges.

Sate Rep. Brenda Kupchick testified recently in front of the General Assembly’s Public Health Committee alongside Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara and Captain Joshua Zabin in favor of a bill Kupchick proposed that would help regulate hookah lounges.

Currently, one of the hookah lounges in Fairfield operates without a liquor permit under a “bring your own alcohol” rule. This gives the Fairfield Police little to no authority to regulate the establishment, which stays open late into the night and has been a cause of many disturbances in the community. State Rep. Kim Fawcett co-sponsored the bill.

“Rep. Kupchick’s bill is bringing attention to the problems with hookah lounges, in particular the Kings Highway corridor in Fairfield, by helping strengthen our local police enforcement options,” Fawcett said.

MacNamara cited how the lounges have the same atmosphere as a club or a bar, but without the regulations typically placed upon those establishments. Typically, those establishments are subject to inspections and limitations on its hours of operations, since they require a liquor permit to operate. They are also subject to penalties if minors consume alcohol there or if someone consumes too much alcohol. McNamara said that is not the case with hookah lounges, which have been a problem in Fairfield where some have allowed patrons to bring their own alcohol.

“It’s basically a nightclub that’s open all night long,” MacNamara said. “It becomes an after-hours club. When the state-regulated bars close, people are now flocking to these hookah lounges.”

“This is common sense legislation that would benefit our community,” Kupchick said. “The chief came to me with a concern and I was happy to introduce the bill. The issue this bill hopes to address is hookah lounges operating as bars. If you’re going to allow people to bring alcohol in, you should have to follow the same rules as any other bar. I’ve been told there are other similar issues taking place in other parts of the state”.

Zabin also testified. He is the patrol commander and said officers often respond to calls at hookah lounges, which operate from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. He said it has a negative impact on the neighborhood.

“It generates a lot neighbor complaints,” Zabin said. “Everything from idling cars outside, radios playing, foot traffic, accidents, actual fights occurring in the street.”

MacNamara said he would like to see the lounges recognized as liquor establishments, giving police the ability to treat them the same way.

“We’ve had minors intoxicated, ambulance calls,” MacNamara said. “We’ve had sexual assaults of minors because you have older individuals with younger individuals who are unregulated in their consumption of alcohol,” he said.

MacNamara said one lounge was shut down after a 14-year-old girl reported being sexually assaulted there. He said Fairfield currently has two other hookah lounges. One lounge, with a bring-your-own-alcohol policy, is causing the most problems, he said.

MacNamara said all he was looking for was the ability to conduct inspections of the lounges. He said he wouldn’t be opposed to the bill’s concept being rolled into broader legislation on hookah lounges.

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