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City proposes revisions to liquor-license law

BY EMILY HOERNER | JANUARY 17, 2011 7:10 AM

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If Iowa City city councilors get their way, bars that are “public nuisances” or require large police attention would be subject to getting their liquor-license renewals denied.

In an attempt to more effectively address problem bars, Iowa City city councilors sent proposed amendments to laws dealing with liquor licenses to several local legislators last week.

The suggestions seek to add a section to the current law, which only requires bar owners to have “good moral character” and be financially stable to receive a liquor license. The revisions would allow the city to deny liquor licenses to bars declared a “public nuisance,” or ones requiring frequent police attention.

While City Councilor Connie Champion didn’t say which Iowa City businesses would fall under the new wording provision, councilors have had trouble with the state laws in the recent past. In the past year the city has sought to deny liquor licenses to multiple bars, including Summit and 3rd Base, based on a high PAULA to police visit ratio. A state administrative judge overturned both orders, saying that standard doesn’t comply with state law.

Iowa City no longer uses the PAULA-ratio policy to evaluate bar owners’ “moral character” and don’t plan on using it if the revisions pass through legislation, Champion said.

“The way Iowa law reads now, there is no reason for bars to police themselves. There is no punishment,” Champion said. “They have gotten lackadaisical about it.”

City officials also collaborated with the city of Dubuque, which has had problems denying liquor licenses of problem bars as well.

The current wording for liquor-licensing law hasn’t been clearly defined by the state, said Champion, and rewording could help the clarity.

According to the proposed revisions, a bar would be deemed a “public nuisance” if it has drug arrests, underage possession, public drunkenness, or endangers the safety of the public.

Though city councilors say the wording will give them more say over liquor licenses, local bar owner Leah Cohen said the new legislation wouldn’t change anything since the 21 ordinance will likely close many bars formerly considered “nuisances.”

“It seems like a means to stop the state from tying the city’s hands on liquor licenses,” she said. “I’m not sure whether it would have any [implications] with the 21-ordinance.”

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said he would vote for the council’s proposed revisions.

“We’ll have to see to what degree other people in Iowa think that this is an issue,” he said.

Bolkcom said these changes would provide more oversight by local governments in approving liquor licenses.

Champion hopes the state will act on the revisions, but said the state hasn’t always cooperated with them on licensing issues.

“The ordinance means nothing unless the state has approved it,” she said.


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