Champaign proposes Unofficial legislation

By Patrick Wade

The Champaign City Council supported two proposals Thursday night, both of which could potentially dull the effects of Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day.

The first proposal, which the council backed 7-1, will expand the authority of Mayor Gerald Schweighart and increase his powers as liquor commissioner.

Under the new policy, the Mayor’s Emergency Order Powers will include the authority to prohibit the sale of beer in pitchers and undiluted shots, along with the power to limit the number of kegs a single residence may purchase to one.

Also, only individuals over the age of 21 will be allowed to check IDs at bar entrances.

Schweighart could also potentially restrict bars from opening earlier than 11 a.m. on March 2, although he stated that he was unsure of whether or not he would exercise this power.

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The restrictions, which would only apply to the Campustown area, were devised as a plan to decrease student interest in Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day and to reduce binge drinking.

“Having fun in this community is a good thing. We encourage that,” said Dist. 3 Councilmember Vic McIntosh. “But when they’re here, they have to understand they have to obey the law and act like adults.”

However, the policy was met with criticism from at-large Councilmember Thomas Bruno.

He proposed that cooperating with students on the event would be a more effective approach, as the city would then be able to contain the festivities and ensure safety.

“They want to defy us,” Bruno said. “The more we try to squish their party, the more they’ll try to defy us.”

Dist. 5 Councilmember Ken Pirok, who was the lone dissenter in the straw poll vote, also saw containing the party as a more effective approach.

“I think our focus ought to be on containing the party and promoting responsible behavior,” Pirok said.

The University also plans to take action against Unofficial by placing more staff in classes with 50 or more students to deter disruptive behavior. Additionally, they will send notifications to parents if students are found to be in violation of the student code.

“We’re asking our students to respect themselves and engage in mindful behavior,” said Associate Chancellor Peg Rawles.

Wednesday night, the Illinois Student Senate announced that the Student Disciplinary Committee also voted that any student caught disrupting class during Unofficial will be subject to possible dismissal from the University.

Dean of Students Bill Riley said that about eight percent of instructors experienced disruptive behavior in their classes last year during Unofficial.

Schweighart said he thinks the cooperation of campus fraternities and sororities will decrease the amount of disruptive behavior on campus this year.

“What’s going to be a big help this year is that the fraternities and sororities have said they’re not going to be hosting these parties,” Schweighart said.

During last year’s Unofficial, the Champaign Police Department responded to 147 calls for service, a 32 percent increase compared to the number of calls per day during the previous year.

Carle Foundation Hospital and Provena Covenant Medical Center reported that emergency rooms treated approximately 30 to 34 individuals for intoxication.

“The larger it grows, the more we have to respond to it,” said Lt. Holly Nearing of the Champaign Police Department. Nearing added that Champaign police will put more officers on the streets for the event, and Illinois State Police will also be present to assist.

The council also unanimously supported a nuisance party ordinance Thursday night, an ordinance making it easier for Champaign police to deal with and order the dispersal of parties defined as “nuisance parties.”

The more restrictive language of the ordinance would give police officers more authority to give party hosts citations.

McIntosh said that this is not the end of Unofficial and that the only real way to decrease the effects of Unofficial is to close all bars and have a large number of police officers on the street.

“I think next year we’ll be back here to tweak this again,” McIntosh said.