By Katie Dahlstrom Herald Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — City of Clinton officials are taking a new approach to the rules that dictate what liquor serving establishments can allow underage patrons.
Instead of changing the monitoring plan for bars with under 21 exemptions, the Rules and Regulations committee this week considered changing the percentage of a bar’s gross sales as it relates to exemptions as well as the curfew for underage patrons.
The council last month rejected changes to the monitoring plan that would have made bar owners with under 21 exemptions issue wristbands to all patrons from the ages of 21 to 30 instead of those currently required to wristbands between the ages of 21 to 26.
Under the city’s current liquor ordinance, establishments where gross sales of items other than alcohol makes up less than 65 percent are required to obtain a class II exemption to host people younger than the legal drinking age.
However, many other cities require exemptions based on a 50/50 split.
Dave Holmes, Legend’s Bar and Grill owner, told the committee that alcohol makes up a little less than 40 percent of his gross sales. If the city were to adopt a 50/50 split such as Bettendorf, Burlington, Marshalltown, Cedar Falls and Mason City, Holmes would be required to have a class I exemption, which does not dictate the establishment follow the monitoring plan as is the case with a class II exemption.
The same rule would apply to the other dozen bar owners with under 21 exemptions if they met the 50/50 standard.
Before the city could lower the liquor sale limit, officials would like to redefine gross sales to include things such as pool table rentals, dart machines, pinball machines and other coin-operated machines.
Committee member Julie Allesee and fill-in committee member John Rowland asked City Attorney Jeff Farwell to come back with suggestions for new guidelines, which could include some stipulations about what portion of the 50 percent of non-alcohol sales needs to be from food sales.
”That way you get to include some of your non-alcohol sales, but you still (have to) be supplying some food, which has always been kind of the bedrock of these exemptions,” Farwell said.
Committee members’ discussion also centered on the time when minors are required to leave establishments with a class II exemption.
Rowland said Clinton’s 12:30 a.m. curfew for 18-,19- and 20-year-olds did not look good for the city, suggesting the curfew be altered.
”I personally think 12:30 myself is too late for hanging around liquor. I know how kids are,” Rowland said. “With kids, the curiosity’s there. We all know it is. Whether it’s exploration with drugs or exploration with liquor, it’s just part of life. It shows up.”
Of several other Iowa cities, Clinton has the most lax rules when it comes to if and when minors can be in bars. While Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Iowa City allow minors in bars, these towns kick minors out at least two and a half hours before Clinton does.
City Administrator Jessica Kinser predicted if the city redefined the gross sales, fewer establishments would have to follow the 12:30 a.m. guideline because it does not apply to establishments with class I exemptions.
”I think in dividing the gross sales differently what you’ll see of what we’re talking about is a lot of the class II exemptions will go to class I exemptions if you adjust the 65/35. So you’re going to have a pool that’s far less as a class II exemption to talk about,” Kinser said.
The committee didn’t make any decisions about the changes, but agreed to continue discussions. They ended the review with a sense the changes would have minimal impact on the business owners subject to the city regulation.
“It’s not my intent to impact the bar owner. It’s my intent to make it easier for them and for the police,” Allesee said.