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Point/Counterpoint: Should Iowa's senate pass a bill that would block the 21 ordinance?

BY DI STAFF | FEBRUARY 20, 2015 5:00 AM

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Prohibition doesn’t work

A long-awaited change to Iowa City’s 21-ordinance, which bars those under 21 from remaining in most establishments that sell alcohol after 10 p.m. might be looming. A bill introduced to the Senate by Sen. Wally Horn, D-Cedar Rapids, would prevent the implementation of ordinances barring those over 18 but under 21 from entering establishments with liquor licenses. Although there is support for the ordinance under the idea that it helps curb the binge-drinking culture seemingly intrinsic to college life, this ordinance is merely a half measure.

The 21-ordinance addresses the tip of the iceberg in the publicly visible setting of the downtown bar scene but fails to address the underlying motivations that spawn pervasive binge drinking among adolescents in the first place. Prohibition and any other attempt to control behavior deemed unbecoming for society through legislation should serve as a reminder that simply outlawing behavior is not an all-purpose solution.

The idea seems to be that if one cannot see drunken underage people in the bars, then the problem is solved. This is not the case. If anything, obscuring the problem presents an opportunity for it to fester in the unmonitored, unregulated environments with arguably higher stakes. Alex Heller, the manager of Quinton’s, 215 E. Washington St., makes a valid point when he said that downtown, there are “police around, and it’s just more regulated, at least in the bars themselves.”

If an underage person gets alcohol poisoning and requires a stomach pump, it would be safe to say the likelihood of her or him receiving prompt medical care increases drastically in a public setting as opposed to in a house party among equally intoxicated individuals. The problem of over-intoxication would remain in the view of the general public, and the resources necessary to address it would as well.

In an ideal world, binge-drinking in the college environment would not be a pervasive issue, but given reality, it is a problem that needs to be addressed through holistic, straightforward measures. Pushing the issue out of the jurisdiction of traditional law enforcement and responsible business practice will only exacerbate the situation and simultaneously reduce the ability to institute effective countermeasures through orthodox channels.

Attempts to counter irresponsible behavior through rigid legislation will only foster a fear of tangible repercussion and not affect the larger intangible implications posed to the individual. The 21-ordinance inspires a fear of receiving a citation but not the potential consequences of one’s actions beyond that. Students afraid of being cited do not equivocally translate to students consciously deciding to abstain from the binge-drinking culture.   

Marcus Brown

It isn’t broken; don’t fix it

A proposed state bill that would change who would be allowed in bars has caused controversy. If passed, it would do away with Iowa City’s 21-ordinance. The potential dismantling of the ordinance, which restricts anyone under 21 from entering most establishments with liquor licenses after 10 p.m., has caused quite the stir not only among the locals but also among the students.

According to a Feb. 13 Daily Iowan article (“New legislation could change under-21 rules”), the main reasoning behind the proposed legislation is to ensure the safety of young adults. Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, justified this reasoning by saying, “They really don’t have a place to go. So they end up at an off-campus house party binge drinking.”

I politely disagree with the senator.

According to statistics from Iowa City, there was a 64 percent decline in loud house-party calls to police since the ordinance was passed. Not only that, but this was accompanied by a 45 percent drop in assault calls, and PAULA citations declined 46.3 percent from 2009 to 2011.

The 21-ordinance is not some archaic law that requires revising. It was created in 2010 and has been voted as the public’s majority view twice. At the time of its latest re-confirmation, Mayor Matt Hayek said, “This means that we don’t turn the clock back to the way it was before 2010. We don’t return to a time when downtown was less safe, less vibrant, less balanced.”

The newly proposed legislation may be drafted in order to ensure the safety of young adults, but it is a potential financial calamity for the establishments that, because of their responsibility in keeping underage drinking to a minimum, have earned exceptions to the 21-ordinance that allows those 19 years and older to stay past the usual curfew. Several venues, such as Studio 13, Quinton’s, and many others, have a large market because of their eligibility. If this exemption is taken from them, then their financial gain face a drastic decline. And with the drastic decline comes something that all businesses fear: the threat of closing. If this policy is enacted, then several establishments could be in jeopardy.

Despite arguments to the contrary, I find that it is more beneficial to keep the ordinance. To do away with it is simply going to complicate a situation that is perfectly fine as is.

Christopher Cervantes


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