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For years I've wondered why the bars in Champaign's Campustown seem to be able to get away with everything short of murder - drink "specials" and other outrageous promotions -- things that obviously are designed to have young adults drink as much as possible, and sometimes beyond what is possible. The bar owners get rich, and the rest of the Campustown merchants get to clean up the mess, and the city and the university get to deal with the bad publicity and the obvious health risks associated with binge drinking.

In my increasing old fogeyness, I can't understand why so many otherwise sensible adults accept that notion that having 19- and 20-year-olds planning their entire week around getting blasted on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in Campustown bars is acceptable. But they do. The main argument, one I accept to some degree, is that it's better to have young people drink in a place where there are some controls (although I don't believe there's much) rather than at a house or apartment (or driving drunk) where it's possible that everyone is incapacitated and no one is capable of looking out for anyone else.

However, maybe the Campustown bars have finally stepped over the line - at least Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart seems to think so. He's upset about last week's "Unofficial St. Patrick's Day" promotion that had some some bars opening as early as 7 a.m., with lines outside as early as 8 a.m.

The Champaign cops were overwhelmed with calls for service to the Campustown area - twice as many as in previous weeks. And they issued more than 80 citations for various violations. Many went to young people from out of state who came drove here to wear green and get loaded (won't that look great on the chamber of commerce brochures?) Professors and teachers reported that students came into class intoxicated. My niece (a freshman at the UI) told me that there were drunken students in her class and that a friend told her that one instructor couldn't get control of his class - the student's were chanting "ILL-INI" from one side of the lecture hall to the other. Authorities are checking into reports that transports to emergency rooms and trauma centers were far above normal. I saw two young women around 5:30 p.m. Friday, literally hanging onto each other and pulling each other across Springfield Avenue - even though they were going against a red light and the traffic was heavy.

The mayor said he hopes to get the authority to place restrictions on the Campustown bars - and he could get it as soon as next Tuesday night when the city council is expected to approve an ordinance aimed at lessening the chances of "celebratory violence" if the Illini go to the Final Four this spring. A side benefit to that new law would allow the mayor to prohibit early bar openings in Campustown next Thursday (the real St. Patrick's Day) and next year - should the bar owners try their colossally irresponsible Unofficial St. Patrick's Day promotion again.

How do the bar owners get away with it? And how do their moral values allow them to make money by encouraging young people - not just allowing them but encouraging them - to drink to excess while endangering their health and the health of others?

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