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Officials await fate of bar-entry bill

BY GRACE PATERAS and REBECCA MORIN | MARCH 03, 2015 5:00 AM

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State and local officials are holding their breath until Friday over potential legislation regarding bars’entrance age, which could reverse Iowa City’s 21-ordinance.

Senate File 208 — introduced by Sen. Wally Horn, D-Cedar Rapids, and Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City — aims to eliminate ordinances that do not allow 19-year-olds in wine-, beer-, and liquor-licensed establishments. If approved, the law would call for all patrons 19 years or older to be allowed into any establishments selling alcohol after 10 p.m.

The bill, in turn, could eliminate Iowa City’s 21-ordinance which bans 19- and 20-year-olds from bars after 10 p.m.

This Friday is the first “funnel” deadline, when bills are killed if they do not meet certain procedural requirements in the Legislature.

Bertrand previously told The Daily Iowan he didn’t believe the bill would move forward in the process, but he wanted to create an open dialogue about the issue.

Many groups across the state have been opposed to the idea of having underage people legally in bars. The Iowa League of Cities is one of several organizations lobbying against the bill.

“There are pressures on the underage person to look and try to fit into the environment by taking alcohol, and pressure to the over-age patrons to buy alcohol for the underage patrons, so it’s just not a good idea,” said Matt Walsh, the president-elect of Iowa League of Cities.

The Iowa Restaurant Association, the city of Des Moines, and the Iowa Medical Society have also voiced opposition to the bill.

“If [smaller towns] don’t have alternative places for them, then they should develop those types of things,” said Victoria Sharp, the immediate past president of the Iowa Medical Society.

University of Iowa President Sally Mason said she has seen the city prior to the 21-ordinance, and it “wasn’t pretty.” Because of the ordinance, she said she has seen a safer environment for university students and those visiting from out of town.

“When people are coming miles and miles away to come to Iowa City just because on the weekends they knew there would be 19- and 20-year-olds in the bars, I often described it as people coming to Iowa City to prey on the co-eds who would go to the bars on the weekends because they could …” Mason said in an interview with the DI on Feb. 23.

“It’s not that way now. I think it’s much more healthy and safer than it’s been in a long, long time,” she said. “It would be a shame to go backwards.”

However, George Etre, the president of the Iowa City Downtown District and business owner, said he sees no reason to believe that, if passed, the law would affect Iowa City in a detrimental way.

Before the 21-ordinance was passed in 2010, Etre said, there were more bars in the town and fewer other types of leisure businesses.

“It used to be a bar scene only,” he said. “Since it’s gone 21, it’s given the city time to showcase other things, like FilmScene and retail. There are so many other things going on downtown that bars aren’t as big as it used to be. It’ll change things for students, but downtown is already vibrant enough without the bars.”

In Ames, no one under the age of 21 is allowed in bars because of a city ordinance, said Assistant City Manager Bob Kindred.

“It’s simple in Ames; if you’re 21 you’re in, and if you’re not 21, you’re out,” he said.

If the legislation passes, he said, the city would have to rely on the bars and police officers to ensure there is no underage drinking occurring.

In Iowa City, Mayor Pro Tem Susan Mims said the council’s focus on community safety is its biggest concern. Comparatively, she said, Iowa City’s 21-ordinance is more compliant for students in comparison with other university towns.

“When you look across the country, a lot of college towns have an ordinance of some sort,” Mims said. “A lot of them don’t allow underage people in bars at all, like before 10 p.m. as we do.”


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