Council might ease fines on underage bar-goers

BY IAN SCHMIT | JUNE 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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Violators of Iowa City’s 21-ordinance may see considerably smaller fines next month after a vote by the Iowa City City Council tonight.

Councilors are slated to vote on whether to lower the fines for first-time underage patrons found in a bar after 10 p.m. and create a tiered fine system.

“I think for the students, this will take away the terrifying fine that keeps some students from coming downtown at all,” said Raj Patel, the University of Iowa Student Government City Council liaison. “It’s nice to see it come to this.”

The proposed tiered fine system under consideration would lower the fine for a first offense from $500 to $300 (plus an additional $235 in fees). A second offense would cost $500, and a third offense would mean $625.

Patel said the system should hold students more accountable without being an undue financial hardship.

If passed, the change would take effect July 1, according to information provided by the City Council.

This is the third and final consideration of the change, with both previous votes passing 4-3. Mayor Matt Hayek, joined by City Councilors Mike Wright and Susan Mims, voted against reducing the fine.

“We feel like we just got the 21-ordinance in place a year ago, and we don’t want to make any changes to it yet,” Mims said.

Both Mims and Councilor Connie Champion said they expect the measure to pass the final vote without any changes in council positions.

“I think [this change] is fair because by the time they pay court costs and possession of alcohol, [the cost] can add up really high,” Champion said.

Champion added that she doesn’t believe the changes will have any effect on downtown or would-be violators’ behavior and that it’s “just the right thing to do.”

Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine also said he doesn’t expect any increase in the number of violations.

“There are times when we’ll try to get a fine raised when it’s not effective, but in this case, I’m not opposed to it being lowered,” he said. “Those who don’t want a PAULA ticket will act accordingly.”

He said he thinks the fine reduction won’t have a significant effect on underage patrons.

“The behavior will be there no matter what,” he said.

The change in the fine was first proposed by former UISG City Council liaison Elliot Higgins, now the UISG president, in April. Patel said the UISG should be heavily credited if the change goes into effect.

“The way the fine is currently set up, if you get a Possession of Alcohol Under the Legal Age along with being in a bar underage, your fine will be more than $1,000,” he said. “Along with rising tuition rates, $1,000 could surely put a student out of college. I feel this is a very important end to this issue.”

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