House passes happy hour bill, families impacted by drunk driving speak out

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — The Rhode Island House of Representatives passed a bill in a sweeping vote to bring back happy hour.

Happy hour has been banned in Rhode Island since the 1980s because of concerns over drunk driving. Now, in a vote of 54-10, the House passed a bill to bring it back.

“Shock. Shock. I’m completely shocked,” said Janine Passaretti-Molloy, mother of Olivia Passaretti, a 17-year-old killed an hour into the New Year by an alleged impaired driver.

The legislation would allow restaurants and bars to offer happy hour drink specials, but only to patrons who order food.

Some business owners said they’re looking forward to a boost in business, families touched by drunk driving have gotten vocal about the bill.

“Why not have half priced appetizers and leave the drinks the normal price?” questioned Kristine Bouthillier, mother of Kevin MacDonald.

“You’re just enabling people to drink more, for a lot less money,” said Mark Dennison, father of Matthew Dennison.

MacDonald and Dennison were hit by a drunk driver while driving home from Connecticut on Feb. 12. MacDonald was left with serious injuries, and Dennison later died from his injuries.

“It’s a problem in the state right now, and I don’t see how adding this happy hour bill, to make it easier for people to drink and drive, is going to help our problem,” explained Dennis Molloy, Passaretti’s stepfather.

The three families told ABC 6 News they’re frustrated with Rhode Island’s laws when it comes to drunk and impaired driving and the lack of penalties that follow. They feel the legislation is just encouraging the behavior and putting others at risk.

“The tragedies are real. This boy right here behind me is no longer in this house,” explained an emotional Mark Dennison, pointing at a portrait of Matthew on the wall behind him. “This is Mother’s Day weekend…and that is tremendously difficult for my wife right now.”

The bill will now head to the Senate for consideration.

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