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Establishments exempt to 21-ordinance may face tighter regulations

BY ASMAA ELKEURTI | NOVEMBER 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City bars and restaurants with exemptions to the 21-ordinance will face stricter regulations if a series of proposed ordinances pass.

Officials said the amendments to the exceptions would make the laws more consistent, as well as more "fair," and prevent establishments from taking advantage of loopholes the exceptions provide.

"With some people taking advantage of this exception, it puts out an unfair playing field," said Leah Cohen, the owner of Bo-James, 118 E. Washington St., and a member of the Partnership for Alcohol Safety committee. "We are a 21-town, and we need to enforce that."

One proposal, brought to the council by the alcohol panel, would require businesses with exemptions to the 21-ordinance to maintain a PAULA ticket ratio of 0.25. If the establishment failed to meet that requirement, it would lose their exemption, said City Councilor Connie Champion.

"If those so-called restaurants want to keep their exemptions, they'll have to stay below .25," she said.

While Cohen said the large majority of establishments with exemptions do not seem to misuse their exemption, PAULA rates can be indicative of that.

"For a few establishments, they're basically an entrance for minors after 10 p.m.," Cohen said. "They have high PAULA rates, which kind of goes along with that."

As of now, when a business opens for the first time, they receive an automatic temporary six-month exemption, but that may be changed.

One proposal states no more than one temporary six-month exception certificate can be given with the sale of a business at the same location in a three-year period.

Some feel establishments have been sold to new owners merely to acquire the exception certificate.

"We don't want people selling businesses back and forth just for the exception," Cohen said.

Another suggestion that would have required business to keep kitchens open and serve food as long as their bars were kept open was rejected at a Nov. 22 City Council meeting.

Jacob Lancaster, a bartender at Short's Burger and Shine, 18 S. Clinton St., said such a requirement would prove costly for its business, which has a food exemption.

However, Cohen said, she feels it leaves some discrepancies to the exemption.

"It's a food exception, so why would you let minors in when you're not serving food?" she said.

The proposals won't target establishments with music and entertainment exemptions because most businesses have maintained good PAULA rates, said Connie Champion.

Marty Christensen, owner of the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St. said while his establishment is enjoying an exemption, he doesn't feel it's absolutely necessary.

"If there are certain venues or establishments that are causing problems, I'm not going to be up in arms about changing the law in order to stop people from taking advantage of certain things," he said. "A level playing field is the ideal."


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