By Robert Brodsky | News 12 Long Island

Nassau County residents soon might have a few extra hours to purchase a fine bottle of merlot or a liter of tequila.

The State Liquor Authority is scheduled to hold a March 1 public hearing in county offices in Mineola on a proposal approved in December by the GOP-controlled county legislature to allow liquor and wine stores in Nassau to extend their hours, Mondays through Wednesdays, until 10 p.m. The county currently allows those stores to be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Wednesday.

Alcohol dependency experts expressed concern that county policymakers are setting a dangerous precedent: making it easier to obtain booze at all hours at a time when Long Island remains in the midst of an opioid crisis that continues to claim hundreds of lives annually.

Current store hours for other days of the week — which are unchanged under the proposal — are from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays. 

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said he proposed the extended hours after Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a package of bills last year expanding alcohol consumption laws. One of those bills extended liquor and wine store hours on Sundays statewide, from noon to 9 p.m. to 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“When the state changed the laws pertaining to hours of operation, I felt that our liquor stores would be at a competitive disadvantage within the region if we did not extend the hours,” Blakeman said.

Steve Chassman, executive director of the Westbury-based Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said Nassau is moving in the wrong direction.

Alcohol, he said, is nationally responsible for an estimated 140,000 deaths per year — 30,000 more than opioids — including more than 6,700 each year in New York, and additional hours of operation will only exacerbate that problem.

“America has some real soul-searching to do with the hypocrisy between 'we're really concerned about public health' and the consumerism and peddling of unhealthy substances,” said Chassman, who plans to testify against the proposal. “We've really got to make a choice between monetary gain, and that includes taxes and revenue, and the adverse impact it's having on public health.”

Long-term health impacts from excessive alcohol use include increased risk for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, liver disease and digestive diseases.

Nassau's proposal was supported unanimously by the 19-member legislature at its Dec. 18 hearing without any substantive debate, records show.

Even with the change, Nassau will have more restrictive hours than allowed by the state, which permits liquor and wine shops to operate from 8 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday.

A total of 45 counties mirror their hours after what's allowed by the state, according to state data. Grocery stores and convenience shops can sell beer and other alcoholic beverages at all hours.

“It's not a controversial proposal,” Nassau presiding officer Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) said of the county's plan. “There are people who want to bring back prohibition, but that's not happening. There are people who want to buy alcoholic products and they can buy it now in Nassau and they can buy it anywhere in the state. So we're not really breaking any ground.”

The Liquor Authority permits municipalities to set more restrictive hours than allowed by the state if they're approved by local lawmakers. The Liquor Authority is mandated to hold a hearing on Nassau's proposed changes, with a decision expected at a subsequent State Liquor Authority board meeting.

Edward Cooper, spokesman for Total Wine Spirits & More, said the large Westbury retailer supports the proposed change.

“Our customers have consistently demanded greater consistency in shopping hours during the workweek,” Cooper said. “The legislation also provides the opportunity to fulfill requested hours by team members while adding greater flexibility to scheduling.” 

The Metropolitan Package Store Association, an Albany-based group that represents liquor stores, said while they generally support statewide efforts to expand hours, they're staying neutral on the Nassau proposal and other similar county-by-county operational changes.

Marge Lee, president of the Franklin Square-based group Drive Educated, Drive Informed, Commit And Totally End Drunk Driving, said she doubted Nassau's change would have significant impact.

“I guess the thinking might be people with alcohol problems have a longer time to buy their alcohol,” Lee said. “Alcoholics plan ahead. I've never heard of any of them running out of booze.”

Suffolk County, which is not proposing a change to its laws, allows liquor and wine stores to stay open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. In the month of December and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Suffolk shops can remain open until 10 p.m. all week.