Bars must go 21-only June 1

BY NORA HEATON | APRIL 07, 2010 7:30 AM

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Nearly two and half years after Iowa City voters failed to pass a 21-only bar entry ordinance, the Iowa City City Council voted to make the rule city code. It will become effective on June 1.

The passage on Tuesday was marked, as it has been throughout the process, with strong University of Iowa support.

President Sally Mason lobbied for the measure and told the council that the university is “prepared to double efforts” to curb overconsumption.

This will include tougher sanctions for alcohol-related violations off-campus, promoting dry entertainment options for students, and requiring all undergraduates to complete the online AlcoholEdu program, she said.

The council approved the measure on its third and final reading with a 6-1 vote. For the third time, Councilor Regenia Bailey cast the only vote against the ordinance.

“It’s a relief to get through this stage,” Mayor Matt Hayek said. “I fully expect we will have a fight on our hands this fall.”

Now that the ordinance has officially passed, those opposed can begin the process of petitioning to overturn the ordinance with a popular vote. For the issue to appear on the November ballot, opponents will have to gather 2,500 signatures from registered Iowa City voters. City Clerk Marian Karr said and she has spoken to at least three people interested in submitting petitions.

Tom Lenoch, who manages downtown bars One-Eyed Jakes, Summit, and Vitos, told The Daily Iowan last month that collecting 2,500 signatures likely won’t be a problem. A petition for an 18-ordinance for the November ballot garnered more than 4,300 signatures in around three days in early March.

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Nonetheless, councilors said the ordinance is an important step in the efforts to curb overconsumption, starting with underage drinking.

Mason said the council’s 21-ordinance, which raises the bars’ entry age from 19 to 21 after 10 p.m., is a necessary step toward a brighter future.

“Alcohol is indeed a common part of the college experience, but too many of our students drink too much and in ways that are way, way, way too risky,” Mason told the council. “Accessibility is one of several empirically established predictors of binge drinking.”

The UI is also making progress toward medical amnesty for students who call for emergency attention for overconsumption.

Marni Steadham, a 21-year-old UI student who spoke on behalf of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, expressed the need for a Good Samaritan policy to encourage students to call emergency medical personnel without fear of legal action.

The UI is working to complete such a policy, said Sarah Hansen, the director of assessment and strategic initiatives in the Office of Student Services. She told the council a final medical-amnesty measure will be in place for the fall 2010 semester.

Both proponents and opponents of the 21-only move said they’re ready for the issue to be on the November ballot.

“Like any political issue, it’s a matter of getting your people out to the polls,” said Bailey.

Hayek said there can be no rest for those in favor of the measure, either, pointing to continual failed efforts to curb high-volume drinking in Iowa City.

“I think there is a growing frustration with the failure of the various measures thus far to succeed,” he said. “Those who [support the 21-ordinance] will have to get involved.”

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