Thursday, October 21

Weighing in on a Local Issue: Yes to 21 or No to 19

Several years ago I ran for the city council in Iowa City. At the time I did not support invoking a 21-only ordinance for being in a bar after ten at night. Though I was absolutely sure that bars were making a killing selling to underage customers, I worried what would happen if these same kids ended up at house parties (because I had heard some awful reports). And, at that time, there were a number of other measures I felt could be undertaken that might have made things better and served to curb binge drinking.

One of those initiatives happened. There is now a keg registration, so that there accountability if someone should hold a house party and underage drinkers are there, the responsible party is the person who registered the keg. I'm not saying it has stopped house parties, but it is a deterrent. I also supported raising the age of alcohol servers and restricting the use of alcohol at community events, neither of which has happened.

However since that time, a few things have swayed my thinking on this topic. First, and foremost, I now work at The University of Iowa and have had a better look at the problems that underage drinking can cause. Secondly, the bar owners had not done a whole lot but give lip service to curbing their enthusiasm for selling to minors, as the police statistics prior to the enactment of the current ordinance showed. Finally, and most damning, the number of people who are underage and come from other communities continued to climb. Call it civic pride, but I don't want somebody's child being harmed in my city or on the way home to their own.

Also with the recent decision to let establishments make "split venues" and students still able to go to places that make 50% or more revenue from food after 10 pm, I don't feel that folks will have to roam the streets for entertainment. And nor will entertainers. Plus, the incremental evidence since June shows that the ordinance is doing what you'd hope a law would do, it's reducing underage alcohol offenses.

I believe that the culture of alcohol goes beyond people under 21, and from a perspective of fairness, I wish that the legal age of drinking would go up to 25. Why 25? Because, statistically, that is when alcohol related offenses generally begin to decline. However, a couple of extra years of maturation may do two things, turn the tide for a group of people who desperately need their wits about them so that they can get through college and two, help change the culture of drinking, even if it is ever so slightly.

Realistically do I think that people will circumvent the law? Of course, but a lot of young people are not looking to get into trouble. Some need a compelling reason to stay out of it. Morality cannot be legislated, but laws can help some people to do the right thing by themselves.

As far as what will or won't become of downtown Iowa City's economic heartbeat, time will tell. I do believe that nature abhors a vacuum and with the number of built-in customers in and around it, things will likely be fine. At the worst case, perhaps the rents and real estate values will come down and more people who'd like to live and work downtown could. That's one unintended consequence with which I could live.

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