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Judging ‘good moral character’

BY NICOLE KARLIS | DECEMBER 03, 2009 7:30 AM

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Beyond enforcing Iowa laws, bar owners must display what is dubbed “good moral character” in order to obtain or keep a liquor license. But the definition of this term can be murky to owners and the public.

State officials say judging people on their good moral character is the most important factor in deciding if a person can obtain or keep a liquor license for his or her business.

And with three Iowa City bars facing the possibility of liquor-license denials or suspensions at the state level after the Iowa City City Council denied their renewals, these owners’ “good moral character” will be examined.

However, this factor wasn’t specifically brought up at two hearings on Oct. 23, when the owners of 3rd Base, 111 E. College St. , and Et Cetera, 118 S. Dubuque St., went before the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division to appeal the denial of their license renewals.

“That’s the main test to whether or not you’re going to get a license,” said Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division Administrator Lynn Walding, and three elements make up defining good moral character.

Bar owners must not be a convicted felon, have a good financial standing, and be able to comply with the law, he said. If they meet these, owners are generally considered to be in the clear.

Judging one’s moral character should answer the question “are you someone that is appropriate to be in this business?” Walding said.

While he admits the wording is slightly strange, he said, the standard has been around since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

Other Midwest states look at the same criteria in their liquor-license decisions.

In Missouri, officials also judge a licensee on their good moral character.

“It generally means that the person isn’t in any trouble, like criminal conduct,” said Mike O’Connell, the director of communications at the Missouri Department of Public Safety.

However, he said, in Missouri, if people have a charge on their criminal records 20 years ago but haven’t has a conviction since, they can now be considered to have “good moral character.”

“Because you have redeemed yourself,” O’Connell said.

While some states don’t use the exact phrase, they look for the same concept.

Indiana officials look to see if the person has a “high and fine reputation,” said Jennifer Fults, community and public affairs officer at the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission of Indiana.

This merely means that the person is in good standing with the Indiana Department of Revenue and has a clean criminal record, Fults said.

Illinois has a more specific definition of the personal standard bar owners must meet.

While officals still consider this good moral character, the phrase itself isn’t actually written in the books, said Susan Hofer, a spokeswoman at the Illinois Liquor Control Commission.

Every applicant must fill out a form with more than a dozen questions ranging from taxes to child support and criminal backgrounds when analyzing an owner’s personal character, Hofer said.

Et Cetera and 3rd Base are still awaiting a decision from Administrative Law Judge Margaret LaMarche.


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