Liquor legislation: How much is too much?

By Staff Editorial

A “drink” in Champaign, if a proposed liquor code is passed, will be no more than 26 ounces.

The city’s Liquor Advisory Council spent last Thursday’s meeting discussing this and other issues of happy hour alcohol consumption, aimed to curb binge drinking between the hours of 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. The commission settled on the 26-ounce limit after taking into consideration standard 750-milileter (25.36 ounce) bottles of imported beer. The code also originally called for the elimination of free-pours because of variable alcohol content, though this was overturned because for fear it might interfere with bar atmosphere.

The Liquor Advisory Commission spent plenty of time hashing out details, like the definition of “drink” and limitations on how many “drinks” a patron can purchase at one time, but it seems unlikely that they spent any time actually thinking about the safety of student bar-goers.

Perhaps the most glaring fault in this mess is that these codes, if passed, will only apply between the hours of 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. and not late Friday and Saturday nights, when the most hospital transports occur. A code meant to curb binge drinking should target nights and weekends, not 4 p.m. on a Wednesday.

Moreover, enforcing these complicated and impractical codes will prove impossible. Defining how many ounces can constitute one beer for two hours a day is excessive legislation. Unless the Champaign Police Department stations itself behind the bar and measures the capacity of the bartender’s shot glasses, regulating servings by the ounce will prove completely ineffective.

If the Liquor Advisory Commission is looking to use numbers to regulate drunkeness, bartenders will need new training in math, as well as a system to keep track of drinks consumed by each customer – another Sharpie mark on the hand, perhaps?

And none of this takes into account the Champaign-Urbana divide. If students plan to binge drink during happy hour, nothing keeps them from scheduling their soiree in one of Urbana’s free-pouring establishments.

Alll in all, the proposal is a bad piece of legislation, both disingenuous and impossible to enforce, that is destined to go the way of the jaywalking law.

Of course, the city seems to be neglecting the sole piece of legislation aimed at curbing binge drinking in the bars: the right bar owners possess to cut off bar patrons once they reach the point of extreme intoxication. Not only is training bartenders to recognize the signs of inebriation more difficult than requiring them to keep tabs on every drink a given customer has consumed, it also saves bar owners from insurance liability issues should a patron keel over and die due to alcohol poisoning.

If commissioners are truly concerned about the well being of students at bars, they should be asking themselves why patrons are not being cut off, not how many ounces constitute a beer.