UI calls for revamped alcohol laws

UI calls for revamped alcohol laws

CHAMPAIGN – University of Illinois Chancellor Richard Herman is calling for the city council to re-evaluate its alcohol policies, including possibly raising the bar entry age from 19 to 21 and increasing penalties for bars that serve alcohol to underage youths.

The request for city council review was made at Tuesday's council meeting by UI Associate Chancellor Peg Rawles, who said she was speaking on Herman's behalf.

"It does seem to us it's a very opportune time," Rawles said.

The request comes in the wake of Unofficial St. Patrick's Day, which was held Feb. 29 and led to the temporary shutdown of three bars and saw police write 199 tickets, most of them for alcohol violations.

Rawles said Herman would like the issue to be on the council agenda for discussion "in the very near future."

She said afterward that the UI is hearing from a number of parents concerned about Unofficial and the 19-year-old bar entry age. The legal drinking age in Illinois is 21.

Contacted by telephone Wednesday night, Herman confirmed that he thinks it's time for a community debate.

"I understand the argument that if the bar entry age is 21, it encourages more private parties," he said. "But I'm not convinced the present policies are working. I don't think there's been a broad discussion of this issue since the 19-year-old bar entry age was installed."

Herman also said he thinks the city is not tough enough with bars where underage youths are caught drinking.

"I think the bar owners need to be more accountable for serving underage drinkers," Herman said. "The issue for me is the safety of our students."

Herman said he has been told that there are five firm city council votes against raising the bar entry age, a fact confirmed Wednesday by Mayor Jerry Schweighart, who favors raising the bar entry age. Herman said public input can change council members minds.

"These individuals are elected, but they are elected representatives of all of us who pay taxes," Herman said. "It would be kind of interesting to hear what a public debate would bring out. Like any elected representative, you have to pay attention to the people."

Herman also repeated his concerns that Unofficial is tarnishing the image of the university.

"We work hard to attract great people here," he said. "The bar scene is a part of college life and adult life, but it's gotten out of hand."

Schweighart said he's talked with council members and that five of them are opposed to raising the bar entry age. He identified those members as Michael La Due, Tom Bruno, Ken Pirok, Deborah Frank Feinen and Marci Dodds.

"I have heard from the council people, and they are not changing their minds," he said.

Schweighart said he doesn't see the point of Herman coming in person to speak to the council until sentiment changes, though he said he would appreciate it if Herman privately lobbied the five council members. It takes five of the nine council members to request a study session on a particular topic.

"He (Herman) knows where I'm at about the bar entry age," Schweighart said. "But the votes aren't there. There's no sense in making it an issue."

Bruno said he would be happy to discuss the bar entry age issue with Herman, but he confirmed that his mind is made up.

"I think it would be a horrible mistake to drive the 19- and 20-year-olds, who inevitably will drink, into cars and private parties," he said. "It would have a detrimental effect on public safety and health, and that's why I'm against it."

Bruno said the city council doesn't tend to request study sessions when it's clear that a majority of the council is opposed to the proposal being put forward.