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Are the underage in bar fines reasonable?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | APRIL 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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YES

Whether I agree or disagree with the 21-ordinance doesn’t matter; the fines for underage patrons caught in bars after 10 p.m. are not excessive.

Elliot Higgins, the University of Iowa Student Government liaison to the Iowa City City Council, presented a letter to the council March 31 voicing his concerns over the excessive fines. Higgins said in the letter that the fines should be reduced because college students have large financial burdens.

Well, if underage college patrons did not stay in the bar past 10 p.m. in the first place, there would be no fines to discuss. The fines serve as a reminder to follow the law, teaching college students some responsibility for their actions. Students need to understand that if A causes the financial burden of B, then don’t do A.

However, I do agree with Higgins on some points. In his letter, he addressed alternatives to just plain lowering the fines. One of these alternatives is community service as a fine in place of a monetary fine. This is a great idea — if it is applied appropriately.

Instead of general community service, underage violators should be required to help with the cleanup of the lawns, streets, and Pedestrian Mall on weekend mornings. But community service shouldn’t replace the entire fine.

Another option that Higgins proposed is to require bars to vocally announce the time when it is 10 p.m. Police could also wait until 10:10 to begin asking for IDs — I know how hard it is to get out of a crowded bar — especially when you’ve been waiting in line for the bathroom or a fight breaks out as you are making your way to the front.

Students still need to be responsible for their actions, though. That responsibility includes getting out of the bar before 10 p.m. or within a few minutes of that time, leaving in a decent and orderly fashion, and conducting themselves like adults when approached by police. If these actions are met, they don’t have to worry about fines or consequences. We shouldn’t even be having this debate in the first place; by the age of 19, people should know how to behave.

— Emily Inman

NO

First off, If I had it my way, the bar entry age would be returned to the appropriate age — 19 — and this whole argument would be rendered irrelevant.

But back to the main point: Should the Iowa City City Council consider reducing the fine given to underage people found in bars after 10 p.m.? Absolutely; the fines are overly excessive.

Now, I won’t deny that if underage people are willing to break the law, then they should fully accept any and all repercussions that they know will likely follow. However, that’s not the crux of my argument. Rather, every crime has its punishment — and, in turn, every punishment should fit the crime. Does the punishment fit this particular crime? I’m not so sure it does.

For instance, an unpaid parking meter is appropriately placed at $5 to $10. It’s not a threat to anyone’s life and is a simple law that the average person has broken.

If someone were to drink and drive, that is a more serious and thus deserving of harsher repercussions. The people at fault are not only putting their lives in jeopardy, they threaten the lives of others. A lot more is at stake, making a fine of more than $1,000 necessary.

Now, what baffles me most is that being in a bar after hours is almost the equivalent of an OWI, once coupled with an underage drinking ticket. Drinking and driving and being (and drinking) in a bar after the allotted time should by no means receive the same level of punishment. And underage tickets are probably facing more stringent enforcement, given the apparent public-relations necessity to rein in the Iowa City bar scene.

I understand that the City Council is doing everything in its power to curtail underage drinking; however, raising the fines is not the right incentive.

In the interests of justice, it’s important to make sure that the punishment for an infringement is fitting. A 19-year-old in a bar after 10 p.m. does not warrant such a heavy penalty.

— Taylor Casey


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