Champaign considers new liquor laws

By Rob Warren

When Sgt. Scott Friedlein introduced the proposal to strengthen happy hour laws at Thursday’s Liquor Advisory Commission meeting, binge drinking was on the commissioners’ minds. The idea behind the proposal is to supplement the state happy hour laws to limit the amount of alcohol a person drinks in a short amount of time.

“This fills in where the state law does not cover,” said Gina Jackson, city council representative to the Liquor Advisory Commission, about the new policies.

The proposal was tabled to the next meeting to give the commission more time to discuss it.

Current state laws do not define what a drink consists of and also exempt prearranged private parties from their limitations. They also exempt the sale of wine bottles to a single person.

Some committee members argued that the changes were unnecessary and that the laws were not at fault.

“The real problem is we’re not shutting (the bar patrons) off when we should,” said Jim Cross, commission member and representative for bar owners outside the Champaign area. “People are drinking in their homes and apartments and there is no way for us to know how much they’ve had.”

Ryan Ruzic, Illinois Student Senate president and member of the commission, agreed with Cross.

“I’ve never seen anyone cut off before,” Ruzic said.

The proposed code changes the definition of the term “drink” and gives limitations to prevent individuals from getting multiple drinks at one time. Imported beers were also a matter of debate as some imported beers are served in 750 milliliter cans instead of the U.S. standard of 24 fluid ounces.

The new definition originally would not allow serving a beer over that amount to a single person. The 750 milliliter cans are 25.36 fluid ounces. The commission agreed to recommend that the number be changed to 26 ounces.

Another matter of contention was whether or not “free-pours,” where the liquor content is measured by eye, and not explicitly measured, would be allowed. The code changes originally called for the elimination of free-pours due to the variable level of alcoholic content, but the commission vetoed that change.

“I think eliminating free-pours takes away from the personality of the establishments,” said Jack Troxell, Jr., commission member.

Another matter before the committee was the upcoming Champaign smoking ban, which will affect the city’s bars. The ban starts January 31. The city does not plan on investigating the financial effects of the ban on establishments until one year afterward.

Members of the commission representing bars protested the delay in evaluation. Cross argued for more evaluations following the ban.

“That period is when we’ll see the greatest effect,” Cross said. “Winter you can’t smoke outside, so people will stay at home and drink there.”

The committee agreed to recommend evaluations before one year, but tabled the decision for later meetings.