UP MP Rolando Brison addressing MPs during the meeting.
PHILIPSBURG--Based on feedback received from Members of Parliament (MPs) and the public, United People’s (UP) party MP Rolando Brison will be submitting a note of amendment to his initiative draft law for the proposed maximum closing time for nightclubs and bars to be 3:00am, instead of 5:00am as he had originally proposed.
The proposed maximum closing time for restaurants will remain 1:00am and for supermarkets, 10:00pm. As it relates to noise pollution, Brison will also be amending his proposal for the measuring distance of sound to be changed from 30 metres that he had originally suggested, to the closest façade, which means, if passed by Parliament, sound would be measured from the border of the nearest building. The latter was suggested by Party for Progress (PFP) MP Melissa Gumbs.
Brison updated MPs about the amendments during a meeting of Parliament’s Central Committee on September 14. Brison had first tabled the initiative draft law during a meeting of Parliament’s Central Committee on Monday, August 14. The draft initiative law is to amend the Permit National Ordinance concerning the trade in drinks and food and the provision of housing with service for a fee in connection with adjusting opening hours and checking noise pollution.
According to a PowerPoint presentation shown to MPs during last week’s follow-up meeting, the existing regulations list the maximum closing time for supermarkets as being 6:30pm; restaurants midnight, bars midnight, nightclubs and lounges 1:00am and other retail 6:30pm. Many businesses have sought exemptions to close outside of the hours listed in the current law, Brison explained.
He said based on information that was received from the Advisory Council and the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT), the existing maximum closing times for supermarkets, bars, restaurants and nightclubs are no longer in line with the current reality in St. Maarten. He said also that quite a number of exemptions are granted for these establishments to open beyond the current closing times as mentioned in the law.
One of the questions he received was whether the businesses were operating illegally and the answer to this, he said, is they are not. “The law also allows the minister to grant exemptions for the ability for supermarkets to operate past 6:30pm or restaurants to operate past midnight, bars, past 1:00am, etc. What, however, we found in discussion with the ministry, is that as a result of this, the government or the ministry in particular, has to constantly grant hundreds or close to 1,000 exemptions for all of these different businesses that are going beyond this time, because it’s very common, especially with supermarkets, nightclubs, bars, that they operate beyond the midnight time that was dated back to 1963 in the legislation,” Brison noted.
He explained the intention behind the law. “My intention with making the adjustment in this law was really to minimise the number of ‘ontheffingen’ [exemptions – Ed.]. That was a very specific term that the Council of Advice chose to make the distinction between ‘vrijstellen’ which is a general exemption and an ‘ontheffen’ that is given to an individual business,” stated Brison.
“Looking the guidelines of the legislation, an ‘ontheffen’ should be somewhat of an exception. It should not be something that is done commonly. If you compare that to, for example, in the building permit ordinance, there are chances where you give this exemption – this ‘ontheffen’ – but it is not intended that if there are 1,000 building permits that let’s say 400 of them are granted exemptions to go outside of the building code. It should be a very exceptional circumstance. However, hearing the feedback from the MPs and, of course, the community, I want to make sure that there is no confusion about the intention behind the laws.”
Brison said the intention was never to allow nightclubs or bars to all open until 5:00am. “To further ensure that there is no such confusion in the future … we did a study of the different closing times and we found a median closing time for bars and a median closing time for nightclubs. What we then looked at is – if we take the average of these two, that would mean 3:00am; and when you look at the number of exemptions that would have to be granted for those businesses that would be allowed to open past 3:00am, then the number of exemptions that would have to be granted would be much smaller. So, for that reason I will be submitting a note of amendment that will change the hours, which now – just to be clear – supermarkets adjusted to 10:00pm, restaurants to 1:00am, coffee houses (nightclubs and bars) maximum closing time 3:00am and there would still be an exemption rule that would exist so at the minister’s discretion, businesses would have the opportunity to be heard before a change is made to their licence,” he explained.
In Brison’s original proposal, it was suggested that amendments be made to Article 52, for the measurement of sound to take place, with approved calibrated equipment, 30 metres from the location of the business, which Brison had said at the time is a standard used in other dense cities. Perimeters for playing music from an establishment are specified more in the law. Brison’s proposal was also for government to be able to set in the national ordinance the sound levels, so the Residential Economic Policy (REP), for example, could be incorporated into the law containing general measures LBHAM. Parliament will have the opportunity to review the LBHAM before it is published. Licence holders will be allowed to be heard before a deviation of the regulation is applied to them.
During last week’s meeting, Brison said instead of measuring from a distance of 30 metres, it would be adjusted for the measurement of sound to be taken from the closest façade, which is defined as the border of the nearest building.
Brison said PFP MP Gumbs had raised the point that St. Maarten built differently with mixed zoning in terms of the commercial and residential buildings being mixed. “So, the suggestion she made regarding making it 30 metres or the closest façade is well received and it’s something that I will implement and amend into the law,” Brison explained.
“So, in that case basically, in most cases, you would go to the closest building, stand at the border of it and then measure the sound of the establishment that you are trying to enforce. That would mean two changes that would be coming – no longer 5:00am and the closest façade as opposed to 30 metres,” he noted.