Last summer, to help struggling restaurants and boost tourism during the pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation that relaxed open-container laws in Atlantic City’s tourism district, allowing more people to consume alcoholic beverages outside.

The plan worked so well that Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling, D-Monmouth, has introduced a measure that would expand open-container areas in other towns.

“We have a lot of areas that are conducive to that, where it could be very functional. It wouldn’t apply to all places but that would be at the discretion of the township,” he said.

He noted in municipalities like Long Branch and Asbury Park there are a lot of restaurants and bars on the boardwalk and this kind of opportunity could help those businesses.

Houghtaling stressed this would not be a forced situation to expand a public drinking zone.

“There would be a lot of thought process that would have to go into that, there would be a study that would have to be done, it would have to be done by ordinance through the town to create that type of environment," he said.

Some have raised questions about the plan, claiming it could encourage consumption of alcoholic beverages in public areas. But Houghtaling says this would only take place in a very controlled manner.

He pointed out outdoor consumption of alcohol is already taking place at restaurants with outdoor seating all over New Jersey, so hopefully this won’t become a distracting issue.

The measure will be considered by the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee when the Legislature returns from its summer hiatus in the fall.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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