21-ordinance may be temporary

BY EMILY BUSSE | MARCH 22, 2010 7:30 AM

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Iowa City bars could be 21-and-up in the next three weeks — and a public referendum wouldn’t delay the implementation of the law.

Unlike in 2007, when the issue went to a public vote before the Iowa City City Council could pass it, the controversial issue couldn’t go on the ballot until this November.

And that’s if the councilors speed up the process.

The first of three readings of the ordinance is scheduled for Tuesday’s formal meeting. Councilor Connie Champion said she anticipates the council will compress the second and third readings into its April 6 meeting, which would pass the measure.

“We don’t usually do that with such a controversial ordinance, but this has exceptions,” she said, noting an earlier approval date would allow for a public vote later this year.

If the ordinance is adopted after the third reading on April 6, as Champion anticipates, opponents of the measure have 60 days to gather 2,500 signatures of registered voters for a petition. For placement on the November 2010 ballot, those signatures must be turned in by Aug. 25.

If the council waits until its third regularly scheduled meeting later in April to hold the final vote, the earliest the public could vote on the ordinance would likely be November 2011. Councilors would then decide when the ordinance takes effect, which Champion said usually takes at least a week.

Depending on how the process plays out, Iowa City’s bars could be 21-only for a few months or more than a year before a public vote.

City Clerk Marian Karr said students sometimes don’t understand that the ordinance would go into effect after approval — filing a petition or putting it on the November ballot will not delay the law.
That’s troublesome to some students.

Cristin Noonan, a 20-year-old sophomore, said she sees the ordinance going into effect before a chance to vote as “unfair because there’s no public say in there.”

If a petition for a public vote is certified by the City Clerk’s office, the council has the option to repeal the ordinance, call a special election, or put it on the November ballot.

Champion said they likely won’t pursue a special election because of the added expense.

But she said she supports a longer period of time between approval and implementation.

Champion said wants to wait until around May 30 for the 21-only measure to go into effect. The council will most likely decide on the publishing date during this week’s meeting.

“I think this is a very major change to city policy, so the best way to implement that would be after the end of the school year,” Champion said, citing “end-of-year” conflicts such as graduation as what she’d want to avoid.

Some have also questioned the fairness of the ordinance being brought up again at all, because the public voted a similar ordinance down in 2007.

But Champion maintains the process is entirely reasonable.

“The City Council has the right to re-look at this issue or any other issue after two years after the vote,” she said. “We have the right to do that, just like they have the right to put it on the ballot.”

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