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Law holding bar owners accountable for outside crime tricky in Iowa City

BY HOLLY HINES | APRIL 15, 2010 7:30 AM

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Some officials say enforcing newly signed legislation that holds bar owners accountable for illegal activity outside their businesses could be difficult in Iowa City, which has a high density of bars downtown.

The bill, which was signed by Gov. Chet Culver on Monday and will take effect on July 1, prohibits liquor, wine, or beer licensees from “knowingly permitting or engaging in criminal activity in areas adjacent to the licensed premises.”

Officials at the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division will define which areas will be considered “adjacent” and develop rules regarding those areas later this spring, said Lynn Walding, the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division administrator.

State legislators will likely provide further clarification, as well, he said.

Some officials said they think the proximity of downtown Iowa City bars could make the law difficult to enforce. According to a study by former University of Iowa Provost Peter Nathan, at least 43 bars were situated in downtown Iowa City in 2005 — a good number of them on or near the Pedestrian Mall.

“I think Iowa City will be interesting,” Walding said, noting that it can be hard to make a connection between an Iowa City bar and illegal activity nearby.

He noted penalties of the new law could include a $1,000 fine, a one-year suspension of the bar’s liquor license, or a liquor-license revocation.

Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said local police will discuss the parameters of the new law with the city attorney in order to clarify how they will enforce it.

“Iowa City would be a unique situation,” she said, and police will wait for state officials to further clarify the law before making any decisions.

In other Iowa cities, a parking lot is often considered an area that bar owners would be responsible for controlling, Walding said.

In August 2009, the Iowa City bar Los Cocos, formerly located at 1928 Keokuk St., shut down after a shooting in the adjacent parking lot.

Iowa City officials, along with those from eight other Iowa cities in the Metro Coalition, advocated for the bill’s passage last year.

Some UI students agreed the law could be tricky to enforce.

Junior Jackie Brockway said bar owners might be forced to hire more staff to help ensure problems don’t arise around the bars’ exteriors.

Nick Miller, a sophomore who works at Donnelly’s Pub, 110 E. College St., said groups of people often “just bum around” in front of Donnelly’s without going inside.

Miller said it could be hard to prove that an individual committing illegal activity came from a specific bar, and he’s curious to see how far outside the bar the “adjacent area” would extend.

During busy weekends, he said, it can be difficult for bar staff to control what happens inside a bar, let alone what happens outside — especially in Iowa City.

“The bar owns the parking lot,” Miller said. “But we don’t own the Ped Mall.”


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