21-only may come by June 1

BY SAM LANE | MARCH 23, 2010 7:30 AM

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A proposed ordinance to prohibit those under age 21 from entering bars after 10 p.m. may take effect on June 1, Iowa City city councilors said at a Monday work session.

As many Iowa City citizens prepare to formally discuss one of the most controversial and long-running issues in recent history, councilors completed procedural items for tonight’s first reading of the proposed 21-only bar ordinance. The measure must pass three readings to go into effect.

Councilor Regenia Bailey’s statement that discussion on the 21-ordinance should be reserved until tonight’s meeting didn’t stop roughly 20 people from crowding into the Harvat Hall for Monday’s work session.

Councilors also decided to expedite the process but not by collapsing the second and third readings into one as had been discussed. The second reading will be held at a special meeting on March 29 at roughly 8 p.m., with the final reading and vote on April 6.

That timeline would allow a potential vote during this November’s election. If the measure had passed after April 8, officials couldn’t put it on a November ballot until 2011.

Councilors were also given a packet of letters and e-mails regarding the ordinance, which included one from University of Iowa President Sally Mason.

“As president of the University of Iowa, I support minimum bar-entry age of 21,” her letter read. “Our students’ safety and health are profoundly threatened by the relationship some have with alcohol. I am firmly convinced that a minimum bar-entry age of 21 will reduce that threat.”

Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek said the time given to members of the public to speak will be reduced from five minutes to three, regardless of whether they speak for themselves or for groups.

“This is an issue of great importance in the community,” Hayek said. “We have lots of other agenda items. We can’t be here until every last person has the opportunity to speak to council. It doesn’t do the public a service to be here all night.”

While most councilors agreed, some, including Bailey, were concerned that the individual time limits may be perceived as a “disregard for public opinion.” Councilor Susan Mims, however, said those who do not get an opportunity to fully voice their opinions may write to councilors.

Hayek also recommended the council limit debate of the ordinance to one-and-a-half hours, which would include discussion among councilors.

Councilors said they’re aware of the increased interest in tonight’s first reading and are prepared.

A Facebook event has almost 500 people listed as attending the meeting to protest the 21-ordinance. Police will be present, Hayek said.

“There are specific issues that generate a lot of input,” he said. “If you’ve served on the council for a period of time, you’ve experienced that.”

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