City takes longer look at underage drinking ordinance

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Although admittedly "unscientific," city leaders in Cape Girardeau are using results of a recent resident survey on a proposed ordinance that attempts to address underage drinking as a guide for further discussion.

The ordinance would bar anyone younger than 21 from being in a restaurant or bar that has 35 percent or more annual gross sales from alcohol past 10 p.m. without a parent or legal guardian.

Some on the city council would like to see it passed after changes were made so employees under 21 would not be affected.

Others, including Mayor Harry Rediger, wonder if the city is overstepping its boundaries with the ordinance. They worry that underage alcohol consumption could be pushed further behind closed doors, leading to more injuries and illness.

The city was approached during the Oct. 1 council meeting by Southeast Missouri State University president Ken Dobbins, along with staff from the university's Department of Public Safety and spokespeople from Saint Francis Medical Center and SoutheastHEALTH with concerns about an increase in alcohol poisonings and injuries related to underage consumption.

Whether penalties should be stepped up for establishments found serving alcohol to minors also has been raised for discussion as a possible alternative to a new ordinance.

City manager Scott Meyer said the 312 responses to the survey show respondents "heavily against the ordinance."

Results show the option that most closely matches the opinion of respondents is that no new regulation is needed.

Sixty percent believe the city's existing ordinance, which states that no one shall sell or supply alcohol to any person under 21, is fine. Twenty percent answered that the proposed ordinance is adequate, while 6 percent would like to see no one under 21 allowed in a bar or restaurant selling alcohol after 10 p.m., even if accompanied by a parent or guardian. Two percent want no one under 21 in a bar or restaurant selling alcohol at any time.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, 12 percent of respondents want no regulation of alcohol sales and age from any level of government.

Several comments accompanying the survey stated that businesses alone should be responsible for enforcing alcohol laws. Others expressed concerns that the ordinance's language would affect their income.

"As a performer in this town, many of our audience is under 21," one respondent said. "They pay to get in and stay for the music. This would drastically cut the attendance."

Others questioned enforcement of current laws, although interim Police Chief Roger Fields has said the Cape Girardeau Police Department has stepped up efforts to curb underage drinking. But he cautioned during the most recent council meeting that the Missouri State Highway Patrol has fewer resources to assist the local police departments with enforcement.

Meyer has said the council will not vote on the proposed ordinance at its next meeting, Nov. 19, but will continue discussing the ordinance.

Results of a city survey on scooters were also released.

The city council passed an ordinance Monday that will require scooter operators to wear helmets, travel only on city streets with a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or below, and purchase insurance. They also must follow other safety rules, such as riding with their legs on both sides of the vehicle while seated and keeping both hands on their vehicle's handlebars.

Sixty-eight percent of the 157 respondents said drivers should be required to have insurance, and 78 percent wanted helmets required. Sixty-one percent did not want to allow passengers, and 62 percent did not want to allow scooters on streets with speed limits above 35 miles per hour. Only five percent of respondents said their primary vehicle was a scooter; 89 percent answered car, truck, SUV or van.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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