Friday, March 12, 2010

Recent Developments on 21 Bars

The 21 Bar Steamroller is Rolling

Today's P-C has lots of scary quotes from unelected city staffers Eleanor Dilkes (city attorney) and Marian Karr (city clerk). The gist seems to be putting any bar issue that gets petitioned on the ballot NOT in this fall's general election, like people anticipated. Instead, they're pointing toward November 2011.

It seems that from the city's perspective, November 2011 is the next "regular" election and November 2010 is a "special" election. But that contradicts the city's precedent in 2000, when they placed the infamous First Avenue 2 initiative (Yes to not build the road and No to build the road) on the presidential ballot. When they want to, they move faster, and they wanted that road bad.

Implementing the 21 ordinance in the summer and pushing a vote back to the fall of 2011 means two whole incoming classes who've never known anything BUT 21. It also means that much more time with that much less business; the council's probably hoping that by the time it finally comes around the bar owners who are active in city politics will go broke.

(Here's something for the council to think about: November 2011 would also put the issue on the same ballot as four council members: 21 supporters Matt Hayek, Mike Wright and Ross Wilburn, and the lone 21 opponent, Regenia Bailey.)

The No on 21 forces have settled early on a counter-move: petitioning to lower the admission age to 18. The Press-Citizen, already beating the 21 drum, openly mocks this: "Are they daft, Machiavellian or just naïve?" I see it as strategic: can the council move to 21 while the 18 petition is on the table? (I see that one going to court...)

UI President Sally Mason offers plenty of patronizing opinions in this DI interview:
  • "It is about looking for better alternatives to promote a healthy and safe environment in our community. And for our students and also for community members." To make you healthier, we'll take away your rights. Sally' I've been here longer than you have and every "better alternative" anyone's ever tried has flopped. Young adults want adult activities, not the same stuff they were doing in high school.

  • "Clearly, a lot of our students are not obeying the law. They are drinking. They are underage (sic), and they are drinking." Define "underage," Sally. Last time I read my 25th Amendment, 18 year olds are ADULTS.

  • "I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails and notes from community members about their disappointment and displeasure with student behavior." Ah, yes, the Love The Hawkeyes and Hancher, Hate The Students crowd.

    Former City Council member Bob Elliott also comes out for 21 in his Press-Citizen piece, changing his mind from his term. He must have remembered my rants, because he acknowledges:
    Philosophically, I favor identifying a standard legal age for being an adult. If you're old enough to join the military and defend our country in wartime, you should be old enough to have a beer.

    Some believe -- perhaps correctly -- that failure to lower the legal age to 18 makes booze a "forbidden fruit," and thus, even more attractive to those younger than 21.

    But there are differences between philosophy and reality.

    However, Bob never says what that age should be, 18 or 21.

    Another office holder, off the record, expresses agreement with me as well, but points the finger back at the state, the feds and the highway money, and says if (s)he has five minutes with a federal or state official, the drinking age issue isn't enough of a priority to take the limited time.

    So what has to happen to get this issue on the radar? Let's look back at the 2000 foot sex offender law. It took years of concerted effort to get the Legislature to acknowledge the unintended consequences (inability to track people and the creation of sex offender ghettoes) and change the law. If they wanted to do the same with the drinking age, they could. They clearly don't want to.

    I'm not expecting to persuade the six Yes votes, so we'll have to settle this in an election. But here's some small asks:

    First: Tell us, in public and on the record, what you really think of the 21 year old drinking age. And if you think it should be lower, lobby on the issue. Put the issue on your annual meeting with the legislators. If the state insists on this unfair and unworkable drinking age law, get them to cough up the extra money it takes to enforce it (I suggest using that all-important, strings-attached federal highway money.)

    Next, word whatever you pass in such a way that it addresses the discrepancy in the age of adulthood. Rick Dobyns' failed 2007 effort referenced "the legal age." I found that offensive, because to me, "legal age" means the age at which you are an adult for everything except alcohol, 18.

    Schedule a vote as soon as is fair and practical (by "fair" I mean "not in the summer".) This fall's general election would be good.

    Finally, delay implementation until after the people have voted. Settle this once and for all and don't make businesses go back and forth.

    I'm willing to accept the public will on this, even if the council is forcing a do-over. But the small steps I suggest will make the pill a little easier to swallow.
  • 1 comment:

    Eric said...

    Most states in the nation adopted a minimum drinking age of 21 soon after federal passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which required states to maintain a minimum drinking age of 21. Under the Federal Aid Highway Act, States were required to enforce the minimum drinking age of 18 in order to avoid a 10% reduction in federal highway funds. The original intention of the law was to reduce the incidents of alcohol-related accidents among people under 21. But since passage of this legislation, and the raising of the drinking age in many states, the percentage of people who drink between the ages of 18 to 20 has skyrocketed. Many say the prohibitions have actually encouraged secretive binge drinking, more dangerous behavior, and less educational programming targeting this age group. Respected law enforcement officials and university presidents have recently called for changes in the federal law to permit states to lower the drinking age.

    At age 18, people are legal adults. As much as their parents may think otherwise, they are no longer children. They have the right to vote and help choose the President of the United States. They can go to war to defend our country, and they can legally purchase guns and cigarettes. It is absolutely absurd that they cannot have a beer or glass of wine without fear of possible arrest and prosecution.

    It's time for the nation to repeal these Prohibition-era laws and adopt a more intelligent, progressive, and educational approach to drinking among younger adults. These laws simply don't work, they aren't enforceable any longer, and if anything they are counterproductive. Literally millions of responsible young adults are already consuming alcohol and that's not going to change. What we need to do is stop wasting the taxpayers money chasing, charging and prosecuting responsible young adults who want to have a beer, and start putting the money where it ought to be, in promoting smart education about responsible drinking, and in pursuing far more serious criminals, including those at all ages who drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

    Eric Paine
    President & Founder
    Drink At 18