AUGUSTA – A legislative committee voted unanimously Tuesday to reject a proposal from Gov. Paul LePage seeking to allow bars to extend the “last call” on alcohol sales from 1 to 2 a.m.

The LePage administration has proposed a pilot program to test the extended hours through Oct. 12, 2015 – the Columbus Day holiday – in order to help bars and restaurants reap more revenue. But members of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee said they could not support a bill introduced in the final weeks of a legislative session that is intended to take effect in the current tourism season.

“I think this year is too soon,” said Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, the committee co-chair.

Testifying before the committee, Doug Ray of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development said the bill would allow Maine to “compete for a bigger slice” of the tourism pie, especially considering that many of Maine’s summer tourists come from states, such as New York and Massachusetts, or Canadian provinces that allow alcohol sales later than 1 a.m.

“We need to make sure that we are giving our visitors what they are accustomed to,” Ray said. “Certainly we want repeat visitors. That’s what it is all about.”

The bill divided Maine’s law enforcement community, however.

The Maine State Police supported the extended hours, with Chief Bob Williams telling the committee that roughly 90 percent of states have later “last call” hours than Maine. Williams said that, in researching the issue, he was not able to find any data on public safety consequences of allowing alcohol sales later into the night.

“Regardless of when alcohol stops being served, the responsibility still remains with the patron themselves and the bar owners to effectively police the consumption of alcohol,” Williams said. “This is a pilot program, and at the end of it we will examine the results.”

But the Maine Chiefs of Police Association opposed the bill, saying it will likely result in an increase in inebriated patrons and drunken drivers.

Waterville Police Chief Joe Massey said his community already struggles to deal with crowds of bar patrons – many of them coming from out of town – who flood out of the city’s bars at 1 a.m. During summer months, police see a “huge increase” in fights, vandalism, disorderly conduct and other problems from the late-night bar crowd, he said.

Massey said supervisors are forced to divert officers from other patrol areas to downtown as bars close, and as it is now it often takes until 2 a.m. to disperse many individuals hanging around parking lots.

“I think by letting the bars stay open until 2 a.m., it only exacerbates that issue and will only compound that problem,” Massey said. “Instead of getting people to move along at 2 a.m., it will now be 3 a.m. And, again, that is when my staffing for patrols is at its very, very lowest.”

This is the second time in recent weeks that the Maine State Police and the Maine Chiefs of Police Association have been on opposite sides of a high-profile issue. In the other, state police supported a controversial proposal – now moving through the Legislature – that would allow Mainers to carry a concealed handgun without a permit while the police chiefs group strongly opposed the bill.

Committee members questioned Ray and other supporters about whether Maine – arguably best known for its scenery, lobsters and coastal areas – wants to market itself as a drinking location and if late-night drinkers are necessarily the demographic that is vacationing in Maine.

“What’s the image that we want to portray for Maine?” asked Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, the committee co-chair. “Is it a place to come drink or is a place to come visit because of what we have for our beauty here?”

One member mentioned the growing tensions in Portland’s Old Port between bars and hotels over noise from the late-night crowd.

But Ray said he believes Maine should be going after “all of the above.”

“Certainly Maine has tremendous restaurants, so we want to be able to attract visitors and satisfy whatever needs and interests they have on a wide spectrum,” Ray said.

The bill will now be sent to the full Legislature. However, because of the unanimous “ought not to pass” report from the committee, it is unlikely to be discussed on the House or Senate floors. Committee members did indicate a willingness to consider a proposal to extend the “last call” hours for future tourism seasons.