City slows alcohol age ordinance; toughens own rules

Monday, November 19, 2012

An ordinance some hoped would help keep alcohol out of the hands of those less than 21 years of age may not be coming onto the books in Cape Girardeau anytime soon, but city officials say stepped-up enforcement of current laws is on its way.

The ordinance would have disallowed anyone younger than 21 from being in a restaurant or bar -- with 35 percent or more annual gross sales from alcohol -- past 10 p.m. without a parent or legal guardian. That effort has stalled, but city manager Scott Meyer said it will be discussed in the city council's study session at 5 p.m. today.

"We've kind of changed gears a little bit," Meyer said. "As we've really drilled down and looked at the true effect of this, we believe additional means of enforcement will lead to additional violations, and violations in areas that are a problem."

Too many changes would have been needed in order to make the ordinance enforceable. That halted further council action after the ordinance had passed its first reading by a 5-2 vote Oct. 15.

Instead, the city is going to try stronger enforcement of its current rules, Meyer said. City officials hope Cape Girardeau can build a reputation for cracking down on underage drinking. The means will include increasing compliance checks and alcohol-server training, adding traffic checkpoints paid through grant funding and "aggressive, zero-tolerance enforcement" of rules dealing with minors in possession, nuisance parties and liquor license compliance.

Officials hope for a cooperative effort between the Cape Girardeau Police Department, Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department, Southeast Missouri State University Department of Public Safety and Missouri State Highway Patrol.

More officer training, random police walk-throughs of bars and quick notification of "problem establishments" by the police chief to the city manager to move to suspend and possibly revoke liquor licenses also will occur, according to city officials.

Southeast Missouri State University president Ken Dobbins is among those who have been asking the city to take a closer look at the problem of underage drinking. He supports a new ordinance.

"I don't think the ordinance that we have is adequate," he said Friday.

The current ordinance states that no one can sell or supply alcohol to any person under 21.

With no movement by the council -- and none expected in the near future -- the university has offered to help fund overtime hours for Cape Girardeau Police Department officers as part of the cooperative effort. Dobbins confirmed Friday an offer he made to Meyer and Mayor Harry Rediger, and said he felt it in the best interests of the community for the university and city to join forces.

Monday's council meeting also will hear a first reading of an ordinance that will amend times for liquor sales on Sundays. State law recently changed liquor license requirements for Sunday sales by eliminating a minimum requirement for gross receipts and allowing businesses to open two hours earlier.

City ordinance language requires businesses to have 50 percent of sales of prepared meals or food to be able to sell liquor on Sunday. If council members approve, that language would be removed and more businesses, including bars, could serve alcohol on Sundays. Approval also would allow businesses licensed to sell alcohol by the drink to begin serving at 9 a.m. instead of 11 a.m.

The final reading of an ordinance that would require pawn shops to use an online system under supervision of the Cape Girardeau Police Department also will be heard. Some pawnshop owners have called the ordinance unfair because it excludes required participation of other types of businesses that also deal in secondhand goods -- like jewelry and antique stores.

Cape Girardeau Police believe use of the system will help solve a large problem of theft and the resale of merchandise in the area.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

One University Plaza, Cape Girardeau, MOposs

Map of pertinent addresses

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