Saturday, March 27, 2010

Why '21-Only' Is A Lie

March 27, 2010, 9:00 a.m.

[Top Four, recent and most hits: This blog entry (with its link to source of 30-plus related blog entries), plus
"Unemployment Answer is Jobs Not Bailouts," February 6, 2010 (with links to 30-plus related blog entries);
"Broadband: Save Us From the Broadbandits," March 24, 2010 (includes Johnson's Des Moines Register column that day, "Much at Stake for Iowa in FCC Broadband Plan," and related blog entries);
"Obama's Health Care Three Years Later," March 23 and 26, 2010 (includes 2007 entry, "Sen. Obama Unveils Health Plan," May 29, 2007, and links to photos from both events).]

And see "UI's Mason Supports 21-Entry," April 5, 2010.

A Four Hour Restriction Ain't 'Prohibition'
(brought to you by*)

What the City Council is proposing to do -- and the University is encouraging -- is the legislative equivalent of a law prohibiting rape between the hours of midnight and 6:00 a.m. (in fact all too similar to such a law), or prohibiting the armed robbery of banks from 3:00 p.m. to closing time, when they need to complete the day's paperwork.


"Why '21-Only Isn't," October 19, 2007

Proposed Iowa City Ordinance

A True "21-Only" Ordinance: Ames

Links to 30-Plus Additional Blog Entries on Alcohol Issues

Two and a half years ago Iowa City was confronting a referendum on a "21-only" ordinance. University and City officials provided something between a hands-off deafening silence and outspoken ridicule and opposition for the proposal (with the exception of the campus and City police chiefs who were the only officials who actually have to deal with the consequences of students' binge drinking).

Now the City Council is stepping up to the plate with a "21-only" ordinance of its own, and University administrators are seemingly supporting the effort.

Look, I understand the economic and political power of landlords (who can charge higher rent for bars than virtually any other use of downtown property) and bar owners. I think President Obama is entitled to a lot of credit for getting any health care reform at all out of today's Washington legislators and lobbyists (even if we're still denied the industrialized world's universal single-payer systems and won't even have a public option). Similarly, I think the City and University are entitled to credit for going this far.

But the fact is that the referendum in October 2007 was not "21-only" and the ordinance currently under consideration isn't "21-only" either.

"It's not?" I hear you exclaim. "That's right," I respond. "It's not."

What, then, is it?

It's a four-hour restriction, a requirement that four hours out of every 24 bar owners will be required to comply with Iowa law -- the hours from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. closing time.

Like the collection of health care reforms in the law President Obama just signed, enforcing Iowa's drinking-age law for four hours a day is clearly better than never enforcing it.

But think about it. What the City Council is proposing to do -- and the University is encouraging -- is the legislative equivalent of a law prohibiting rape between the hours of midnight and 6:00 a.m. (in fact all too similar to such a law), or prohibiting the armed robbery of banks from 3:00 p.m. to closing time, when they need to complete the day's paperwork.

For the City Council, University, mass media, supporters and opponents to call this "21-only" is not only a misrepresentation of what's involved, it makes it sound much more appealing to those who think it is true "21-only" when it is far from it, and gives the opponents a decided public relations advantage in their efforts to characterize it as a compulsive and draconian commitment to law enforcement.

Not only is it a misrepresentation, the proposal makes no logical sense. If it's ridiculous to permit those who cannot legally drink to enter or be in establishments after 10:00 p.m., when the bar's sole purpose is to profit from the sale of alcohol, why is it all right for them to be in an alcohol-dispensing business before 10:00? In terms of effectiveness, to the extent the ostensible purpose of the ordinance is a reduction in the awful consequences of binge drinking, doesn't it become merely a bit of slight-of-hand time-shifting, producing roughly equivalent drunkenness earlier in the evening? And in terms of enforcement, won't it be an administrative nightmare for bar owners, young customers, and police alike to clear out the bars at 10:00, and assure there are no violations of the four-hour restriction -- compared with the relatively much simpler administrative task of insuring that no one under the age of 21 ever enter a bar in the first place?

(Indeed, based on the ordinance as drafted, see below, unless there is a prohibition elsewhere -- as there may very well be -- it would seem to permit entry by kids of any age (19, 16, 13) during all the hours bars are open, except for the hours of 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.)

Don't get me wrong. If I were in Congress I would have done what Dennis Kucinich did: oppose the health care bill, insisting on at least a public option, until it was futile to do so, following which I would have also voted for the law that passed. Similarly, were I on the City Council I would have voted with the majority and supported this ordinance. In the world of special interest politics the reality often becomes one in which a little progress is all that is possible.

But "universal health insurance" isn't "universal, single-payer health care." And a four-hour enforcement of Iowa's law is not "21-only."

Because I laid all of this out in a blog entry in 2007, and the issues are unchanged, this is one of those rare occasions in which I'm going to merely embed that earlier blog entry here, rather than say all the same things with updated citations to the more current, and equivalent, news reports of a "21-only" proposal. (See, e.g., the following headline and lead, Josh O'Leary, "City council moves on 21-only ordinance; Measure passes 6-1 on first vote," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 24, 2010, p. A1, "Six of the seven members of the Iowa City Council, saying they were fed up with allowing downtown bars to serve as a destination for underage and binge drinking, made the first move toward raising the bar entry age to 21 on Tuesday.")

[The day following the publication of this blog entry, March 28, a Press-Citizen editorial took at least a half-step toward clarifying the confusion. The lead continued the misrepresentation: "We were cautiously optimistic during Tuesday's first reading of a proposed ordinance to raise the bar entry level to the legal drinking age." "The bar entry level." No, no, no; it's not "the bar entry level"! By the second sentence, however, the editorial got it right: "A majority of the councilors already had expressed their support for 21-only after 10 p.m., . . .." So we can be grateful, and thank the paper, for that correction. Editorial, "Our Quick Take on Last Week's News Stories," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 28, 2010.]

Below that prior blog entry I have also reproduced the actual text of the ordinance before the City Council, and provided some links to other blog entries about Iowa City's alcohol problems.


"Why '21-Only' Isn't"

October 19, 2007, 12:45 p.m.; October 20, 2007, 8:30 a.m.

"21-Only"? Nonsense!

There's lots of action -- or at least discussion -- about the so-called "21-Only" proposal. Why "so-called"? Because it's not about "21-only" at all -- notwithstanding that characterization by supporters and opponents alike.

The Daily Iowan editorializes this morning, with a headline reference to "21-Only," "As most people are well-aware, this election will decide the fate of a proposed ordinance banning anyone under the age of 21 from the Iowa City bars" -- a brazenly inaccurate characterization. Editorial, "21-Only Voting Might Spur Increased Student Engagement," The Daily Iowan, October 19, 2007, p. A6.
Under this proposal the Iowa law would continue to be openly violated in Iowa City's bars up until 10:00 p.m. You may think that's a good idea, you may think it's a bad idea, but it is clearly not "banning anyone under the age of 21 from the Iowa City bars."

A columnist in this morning's Press-Citizen spreads this mischaracterization further by calling it "a proposal that would prevent anyone younger than 21 from entering a bar." Jesse Tangkhpanya, "When Political Opposites Join Forces," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 19, 2007, p. A11.

Most newspaper stories about the proposal ultimately get around to a factually accurate description, but not before headlines and leads speak of "a 21-only ordinance," Rob Daniel, "Sides Clash on 21-Only Proposal; Few Students Attend Forum," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 19, 2007, p. A1; "the 21-and-older bar issue," Gregg Hennigan, "Supporters, Opponents Air Views on Bar Law at Forum," The Gazette, October 19, 2007, p. A1; or "21-ordinance," Abby Harvey, "Group Targets 21-Only; The UI Student Health Initiative Task Force Rallies Students, Encourages Voters in Hopes of Defeating the 21-Ordinance, Which is on the Nov. 6 Ballot," The Daily Iowan, October 12, 2007, p. A1.

Bob Patton's editorial cartoon of October 13, 2007, depicts a deteriorating "downtown Iowa City" going down a sewer designated "21-only." Patton's Pad, Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 13, 2007, p. A15.

Even supporters of the proposal have it wrong, as evidenced by one author's assertion that "the 21-ordinance . . . raises the bar-admission age to 21." Christine Allen, "Don't Get Scared by Anti-21-Only Rhetoric," The Daily Iowan, October 16, 2007, p. A6.
So, what are the facts?

Under the present "restrictions" of the City Council, from the time bars open -- 6:30 a.m. on football game days for "breakfast" -- until 10:00 p.m. there are essentially no restrictions on who can enter.

And if the so-called "21-only" proposal passes? That will still be the law!

Think about that for a moment. Calling this a "21-only" proposal is a gross distortion of what it's about, designed to frighten with this characterization those voters who wish to perpetuate the bar owners' profits from operating businesses at which the law is routinely violated.

All the proposition involves is what happens between 10:00 p.m. and closing time. Under the present "restrictions" the illegal provision of alcohol to those who are under the age of 19 can only continue up until 10:00 p.m.

If the so-called "21-only" proposal passes, the illegal provision of alcohol can still continue up until 10:00 p.m., but from 10:00 p.m. until closing time the Iowa law will be enforced.

Iowa law prohibits the sale of alcohol products to anyone under the age of 21.

I'm perfectly willing to consider any independent, reliable data regarding the advantages and disadvantages of lowering the drinking age to 18. (Among other things, setting the age at 18 would eliminate what may be for some students the appealing notion of getting away with something illegal.)

But I don't think arguments that "those old enough to fight for their country ought to be able to buy a beer" have any relevance whatsoever as to why it should be OK to violate the present law -- which very clearly is "21-only." In order to avoid disrespect for law generally, I believe whatever the law may be should be enforced -- until, if desirable, it is changed.

Given that what bars do is sell alcohol, it would not be unreasonable for Iowa City, like a great many sensible cities around the country, to provide that no one under the age of 21 could enter establishments the sole purpose of which is to prosper from the consumption of alcohol by those who enter. Actually, that's kind of a no-brainer if you think about it.

Iowa City's City Council, however, proud of this university community's reputation as one of the underage binge drinking capitals of the nation, with a wink and a nod has been able to expand students' access to alcohol from a mere 7 bars not long ago to 51 today. Think of the profits. Think of the "economic development." Think of the "vibrancy" of the downtown. Wow!

Now those are City Council members worth voting for, aren't they? (The only reason we need the referendum is because the Council members thought it too much of a burden on wealthy bar owners to have to comply with the law after 10:00 p.m.)

It is apparently relatively easy for underage students to obtain alcohol in bars, what with fake IDs, reimbursing legal-aged friends who buy them drinks, and undoubtedly other methods of which I am unaware. Once they have entered the bars it is virtually impossible, with or without the assistance of the police, to comply with the Iowa law.

In fact, if illegal sales were not being made, if bar owners' underage patrons were not consuming alcohol illegally, why would bar owners care if the additional (19- and 20-year-old) underage students had to leave at 10:00 p.m.? Why would the 10:00 p.m. expulsion of those who shouldn't really be there at any time of day have an adverse impact on the economy or "vibrancy" of the downtown? The only reason it might have an economic impact is because bar owners have been flagrantly violating the law all along and would like to be able to continue to do so 24/7.

If this were truly a "21-only" proposal I could understand the bar owners' objections to the loss of such a substantial portion of their total, ill-gotten gain. I wouldn't agree with them, but I would understand.

But the ordinance is not a "21-only" law.

It is rather, it seems to me, an excessively modest compromise.

We have a very serious problem of binge drinking by young students that leads to sexual assaults and other violence, adverse impacts on health including the possibility of more alcoholism than might otherwise exist in their lives, and a devastating impact on their educations -- up to and including more dropouts than would otherwise occur -- not to mention the adverse impact on the community generally and its residents. Critics of Iowa City's lax approach to the law note two student deaths -- one from a student inhaling his own vomit, another from a drunken student falling off a balcony -- plus "drunken driving deaths, countless drunken assaults and attacks and a 2005 Harvard School of Public Health study that states UI has a binge drinking rate of nearly 70 percent." Lee Hermiston, "Iowa's Drinking Called Epidemic; Experts Say Bingi9ng Affects Health Later," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 13, 2007, p. A1.

As UI Public Safety Director Chuck Green said, "alcohol consumption does exacerbate the problem of assaults and sexual assaults in the community. 'We know there's a whole host of other issues that accompany intoxication. Sexual assaults go up, criminal mischief goes up, assaults go up. Anything we can do to reduce those crimes would be beneficial." And Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine reports, "'After 10 o'clock at night [Iowa City's downtown] has a different personality. And most of it is due to alcohol. Alcohol affects everything we do after 10 p.m.' . . . Hargadine said the downtown area becomes more violent, disruptive and unsafe. There's fighting, littering, uprooting trees and all kinds of mischief-related activities that have alcohol as the common denominator." (The foregoing is from the October 20 piece in Lee Hermiston's four-part series about the proposed ordinance. Lee Hermiston, "21-Only to Affect Police; Pass or Fail, Proposal Will Change Law Enforcement; Most Reported Offense in Downtown is Underage Possession of alcohol," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 20, 2007, p. A1.)

Here are the two most relevant administrators of law enforcement in the community supporting this ordinance, and providing graphic data and reasons why, and some of the same folks who are willing to support whatever the police want -- from arming campus police to providing more city police officers -- are unwilling to listen to them when it comes to the criminal and otherwise costly consequences of underage drinkers in bars after 10:00 p.m.

(And see also the October 20 letters to the editor: Sarah Hansen, "21-Only Will Make Iowa City Better," and Christine Allen, "Iowa City Has a Drinking Problem," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 20, 2007, p. A16.)

Iowa City's drinking establishments have, among other things, deliberately set fire to a bar where customers were sitting, staged fights inside the bar, and more recently staged an event described as a "party" at the Union Bar with a "mandate of matching lingerie for cocktail waitresses [that] endangered the young women's welfare [creating] a haven for the objectification of women, an environment in which lewdness is an encouraged standard." Patrick Bigsby, "'Sex Sells' Excuse Sold Out," The Daily Iowan, October 10, 2007, p. A6

A true "21-only" would produce a significant reduction in binge drinking, notwithstanding opponents' canard about it "just going elsewhere" (something that is going on now anyway).

This ordinance will not have such a substantial impact. But it should result in an improvement -- without a significant adverse impact on the legitimate, legal profits of any bar owner. A requirement that bar owners obey the law a couple of hours a day cannot seriously be argued to be a very onerous imposition.

Let's give the proposal a chance. As Iowa City Police Chief Hargadine says, "There's only one way to know for sure [how much it will help] and that's to do it." (From Lee Hermiston's October 20 story.)

But to do that, the media, and the voters they inform, need to know precisely what it is this ordinance does, and does not, provide. And the fact is that no one is going to be voting on "21-only." Not in this town.


Iowa City City Council Agenda, Special Formal, March 23, 2010 - 7:00 p.m., Item 21, p. 15

Prepared by Eleanor M. Dilkes, City Attorney, 410 E Washington St., Iowa City, IA 52240; 319-356-5030



WHEREAS, the "legal age" to drink alcoholic beverages in the State of Iowa is twenty-one (21) years of age and said definition, as now or hereafter amended is incorporated by reference in the City Code; and

WHEREAS, the City Code currently provides that, unless otherwise exempted by law or ordinance, a person shall have attained nineteen (19) years of age or more to lawfully be on the premises between the hours of 10:00 P.M. to closing of any Iowa City establishment holding a liquor control license, a wine or beer permit, that authorizes on premises consumption; and

WHEREAS, it is in the best interests of the citizens of Iowa City to change the bar entry age to the legal age which is currently twenty-one (21) years of age,


Section I AMENDMENT. Title 4 Chapter 5 Section 8 -- entitled Persons Under 19 Years of Age in Licensed or Permitted Establishments -- shall be amended by replacing "nineteen (19) years of age" wherever and however it appears within such Section 8 with "the legal age".

Section II REPEALER. All ordinances and parts of ordinances in conflict with the provisions of this Ordinance are hereby repealed.

Section III SEVERABILITY. If any section provision or part of the Ordinance shall be adjudged to be invalid or unconstitutional such adjudication shall not affect the validity of the Ordinance as a whole or any section provision or part thereof not adjudicated invalid or unconstitutional.

Section IV EFFECTIVE DATE. This Ordinance shall take effect June 1, 2010.

Passed and approved this ____day of __________. 20__.


ATTEST: _______________

Approved by:

City Attorney's Office


A True "21-Only" Ordinance: Ames

Municipal Code of the City of Ames

Chapter 17


(1) It shall be unlawful for the holder of a license or permit issued pursuant to the 'Iowa Alcoholic Beverage Control Act' for premises where more than fifty percent (50%) of the business conducted is the sale or dispensing of alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises, and for any person employed with respect to such premises to knowingly permit or fail to take reasonable measures to prevent the entry onto such premises of any and all persons who have not yet attained the age of twenty-one. It shall be the duty of the licensee and of the person or persons managing such premises to cause to be posted and maintained at all times an easily readable notice in the English language stating that persons less than 21 years of age are prohibited from entering the premises. . . .


Links to 30-Plus Additional Blog Entries on Alcohol Issues

I've written quite a bit about these issues since this blog began in 2006 (and before). For annotations and links to 31 blog entries between October 7, 2006, and November 18, 2009, see the list at the bottom of "UI's Alcohol Problem: Many Solutions, Little Will; Alcohol Back in the News? No, Always in the News," December 16, 2009, and the all-inclusive Web site, Nicholas Johnson, "University of Iowa Sexual Assault Controversy -- 2007-08," August 9, 2008, et seq.

And for the latest, with some really solid suggestions from campuses and college towns that have the imagination and courage to really do something about the major public health problem of college students' binge drinking, see "UI's Alcohol Abuse: Look to Nebraska; 'What Works' to Reduce Students' Alcohol Abuse," December 28, 2009, and "Alcohol Challenges City, UI Administration; Will Courage and Common Sense Finally Win Out?" March 3, 2010.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself.
-- Nicholas Johnson
# # #


Anonymous said...

Nick- I replied to a previous post where you used the "no-brainer" argument, but noticed that you did not reply. I see that you bring it up again here. Perhaps you could respond to this comment and clarify your position. You imply that the bars are to blame for "allowing" over-21 purchasers to transfer alcohol and for condoning the use of fake id's. Iowa Code section 123.49(2)(h)(2009) provides, in relevant part, that a seller of alcohol shall not Sell, give, or otherwise supply any alcoholic beverage, wine or beer to any person, knowing or failing to exercise reasonable care to ascertain whether the person is under legal age, or permit any person, knowing or failing to exercise reasonable care to ascertain whether the person is under legal age, to consume any alcoholic beverage, wine, or beer.

Anonymous said...

Iowa courts and the Alcoholic Beverages Division have extensively commented on what this really means for the seller. The legal responsibilities of the seller are clear: don't sell alcohol to minors and make a reasonable effort to insure that the identification presented is authentic and matches the purchaser's appearance. I have been unable to find any legal authority for the argument that sellers of alcohol should be held responsible for investigating and mitigating 3rd party violations of other alcohol laws(transfer of alcohol from a legal purchaser to a minor). An argument could be made for this responsibility if bars were actively promoting so-called "straw purchases," but that argument would have to be pretty narrowly contructed.

Anonymous said...

I would love for you to provide me with the legal authority behind your reasoning. Otherwise, it serves solely as moral crusading and is surely misleading your readers. The law doesn't impose the burden you mention upon sellers of firearms(such as requiring sellers to follow and track buyers to make sure that they are following the law). The law doesn't require pharmacists to follow purchasers and make sure that they don't illegally transfer prescriptions. I can think of countless examples of products that can be purchased legally and then used illegally, where the seller is not legally liable for those later actions.

Nick said...

Anonymous: The reason I normally don't respond to readers' comments is because I feel I have a disproportionate voice in this blog as it is, and think it would be a little heavy handed of me to come on defensively to "answer" (or argue with) any view contrary to mine.

But since you've requested I do so, I'm happy to try.

I have no doubt I must have said whatever you think I've said, but I can't immediately find in this blog entry whatever that might be. Please provide me a quote that I can search for and find in context and then I'll be happy to respond (though please understand it may not be immediately).

Anonymous said...

Fair response and request. From this blog post- "In fact, if illegal sales were not being made, if bar owners' underage patrons were not consuming alcohol illegally, why would bar owners care if the additional (19- and 20-year-old) underage students had to leave at 10:00 p.m.?" In this statement, you're mixing together two big "ifs." Underage consumption does not result only from illegal sales. It's probably fairly safe to assume that the majority of underage consumption occurs as the result of a legal sale, followed by an illegally third party transfer. It’s amazing how this issue never gets any attention. I’m all for punishing the bars if they are making illegal sales, but why is it that people feel the bars should be punished for failing to aggressively mitigate straw purchases, something they are not required to do under Iowa law. The argument could be made that the law should require bars to mitigate straw purchases, but as it currently stands, the legislature has not made that a priority. Instead, the legislature has chosen to place higher penalties on the third party individuals who make those purchases. Where is the enforcement here? Why does the ICPD and local media continue to only go after the making a legal sale? It seems that the ICPD and local media has all but ignored the third party supplier, arguably ignoring the crux of the problem.

Anonymous said...

My apologies for the double post above. From your blog entry March 3rd. "Iowa law forbids those under 21 from consuming, buying or possessing alcohol.Bars are in the business of profiting from the sale of alcohol.Given that both are true, isn't the exclusion of under-21-year-olds from bars a kind of no-brainer?" This logic would be similar to claiming that we should ban those without prescriptions from entering pharmacies, those who have not passed a handgun background check from entering a store selling handguns. I could list more examples if you would like. The point is, you're placing the blame on the legal seller, instead of identifying the crux of the issue, the person who is legally purchasing the alcohol and then illegally handing it off to a minor.

Nick said...


For the reasons in the fourth comment from the top, I normally would not respond, but in this instance it would be rude not to, since you've asked.

I will try to identify (hopefully accurately) and respond to your arguments.

1. At one point, you seem to be suggesting that because many of the sales of alcohol, ultimately consumed illegally, are in fact purchased legally (i.e., by those over 21, who give them to those under 21) I am wrong to suggest that the bar owners are opposed to the 4-hour ban because they will lose revenue. I either don't agree with, or don't understand, this logic. So long as someone is paying for alcohol consumed illegally -- whether the purchaser is underage, or the friend of someone who is -- if that underage person is not in the bar it seems to me the bar owner has lost revenue.

Nick said...

2. You seem to suggest that you think it somehow unfair, if a bar only sells to those over 21, to hold it responsible for the underage consumption of alcohol purchased for them by those over 21. (a) I just disagree. If a bar owner wants to risk admitting those Iowa law forbids to consume alcohol, s/he thereby assumes the onerous responsibility to see to it that they don't drink. (b) There is an analogy in "vicarious" and "contributory" copyright violations. It is possible to be found guilty of a copyright violation, even though you haven't copied anything, if you are knowingly permitting or facilitating others to do so. (c) "Dram shop acts" impose liability on bar owners for the harms done by their drunken patrons -- after they have left the bar. In short, I believe it is perfectly reasonable to hold bar owners responsible for much more than merely selling to those they know to be under the legal age.

Nick said...

3. Pharmacies and gun shops. You suggest that an under age drinker in a bar is like someone entering a pharmacy without a prescription, or a gun shop if they aren't old enough to buy a gun. (a) Most stores with pharmacies, or guns for sale, are also selling many other things. There's little reason to keep someone who doesn't have a prescription from entering a drug store to buy hand lotion or a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke. Ditto for Wal-Mart's sale of guns. Few underage drinkers choose their bar on the the basis of the quality of its diet soda. (b) If a pharmacy-only, or guns-only, store was known by the police to be frequented by mobs of folks with no prescriptions, or those too young to buy guns, I suspect they might take a second look at them, too.

Nick said...

4. If all you are suggesting is that adults who buy alcohol for under age drinkers (whether in bars or liquor/grocery stores presumably) should be prosecuted along with bar owners and the under age drinker, I agree with you. It is either covered by, or at least analogous to, "contributing to the delinquency of a minor."

Hopefully, you find this responsive and fair comment.