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Two IC councilors favor adding PAULA ratio to food-exemption

BY CHASTITY DILLARD | JULY 15, 2011 7:20 AM

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Two city councilors on Thursday said they were in favor of examining exemption regulations for restaurants under the 21-ordinance.

In conversations with The Daily Iowan Thursday, Councilors Connie Champion and Mike Wright indicated they thought tying PAULAs to the food-based exemptions is a good idea.

"We get reports that show PAULAs are going up and up," Wright said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the trends."

As of now, restaurants serving alcohol may apply for an exemption to the 21-only law if their food revenue is 50 percent or greater of overall revenue.

Councilors may review whether restaurants that serve alcohol to underage drinkers would lose their exemption status.

This is a departure from last year's use of the PAULA ratio, which the city employed to deny liquor-licenses renewals if the ratio was greater than one per police visit.

The Iowa Alcohol Beverages Division in July 2010 reversed the City Council's decision to deny liquor-license renewals based on the PAULA ratio, saying that did not comply with state law.

"That was a different problem," Champion said. "The state controls liquor licenses; we control [bar owners'] exemptions only."

Last summer's battle began when City Council denied 3rd Base, formerly known as the Field House, its liquor licensee.

After the bar appealed to the state, Administrative Law Judge Margaret LaMarche ruled against the council. The council appealed to Alcohol Beverages Division Administrator Stephen Larson, who affirmed the judge's decision.

"It wasn't that the case of the PAULA ratio was illegal," said Tonya Dusold, Iowa Alcohol Beverage Division communications director.

Under Iowa Code, the City Council had failed to show the licensee knowingly allowed the illegal activity and failed to take reasonable care against underage drinking, she said.

"They are completely individual of each other," Dusold said. "As we go forward, if the city denies a renewal based on recommendations, each one will be considered on a case-by-case basis."

And the PAULA ratio regulation is nothing new. The entertainment-venue exemption allows minors to attend live music shows as long as the bar maintains a PAULA ratio of less than .50 over 10 bar checks.

"It's a very simple thing to monitor," Champion said.

Councilors won't discuss the recommendations until their meeting Aug. 2, assuming the Partnership for Alcohol Safety hands in its proposal.

And in the meantime, restaurants and bar owners said they might decide to re-evaluate their business plans.

"I'm considering going to 21-only as well," said Terry French, the owner of Sam's Pizza, 441 S. Gilbert St. "Just because I don't want to be the one with the target on my back."


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