Bars in Iowa could be taken to court and held responsible for shootings, assaults and riots by unruly patrons who spill out of their establishment into alleys, streets and adjacent properties, under the proposed legislation.
An Iowa House subcommittee this week introduced a bill pushed by the city of Davenport to change state law to help cities shut down nuisance bars for safety reasons.
City officials have asked lawmakers to allow cities to take a case to local district courts to reduce harm to public safety caused by liquor establishments, rather than having to rely on the beverage division alcoholics from Iowa.
Davenport repeatedly attempted to deny the now-closed Shenanigan’s Irish Pub at 303 W. 3rd St. a liquor license based on its public safety record, but was overruled by the ABD, which is responsible for regulating and investigating complaints about liquor establishments.
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Police responded to more than 2,000 calls for service at the establishment over a three-year period before the bar closed in December 2019.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was a big fight that broke out at the pub in which a gun was fired and a bullet went through the window of Mac’s Tavern, located across from the street at 316 W. 3rd St., and just missed a customer.
Yet the bar wasn’t closed because the state suspended its liquor license, but rather because the landlord terminated his lease.
City officials say going through the local courts, which typically handle nuisance complaints in all other areas, will bring parity to the process and hopefully a faster resolution.
“Had this amendment been in place at the time, the City of Davenport and the local district courts could have addressed this serious local nuisance to quickly remedy this violent behavior instead of allowing the nuisance to continue for three years,” Davenport city officials wrote in a statement supporting the bill.
House Study Bill 633 would allow city and county prosecutors to sue liquor establishments for creating a serious threat to public safety and seek a temporary injunction before trial.
Licensed food establishments that sell alcohol, such as restaurants, would be exempt.
The bill states that a nuisance to public safety exists if “it is established by clear and convincing evidence that an owner, manager, employee, contemporaneous customer or guest of the licensed premises commits the one of the following acts on the premises or within 1,000 feet of the premises.”
Acts include unlawful use of a firearm or offensive weapon, assault with a dangerous weapon, or being the scene of a riot on three or more dates in a 12-year period. month.
If a district court determines there is a threat to public safety, the court could temporarily shut down the business, revoke its liquor license, or require a change in business practices or operations. It could also require the owner to post a bond to keep the property open pending the final resolution of the lawsuit.
Lobbyists from the city of Des Moines and the Metropolitan Coalition have signed up to support the bill. The Iowa Restaurant Association, which represents Iowa’s restaurant and beverage industry, is registered against the bill.
“The City of Davenport recognizes that the Restaurant Association has concerns about the application of this amendment to food establishments,” the city wrote in a statement. “The City recognizes that this nuisance to public safety rarely, if ever, comes from food establishments and after hearing these concerns, this amendment excludes restaurants and applies only to pure liquor (bar) establishments.”
State Rep. Rick Olson, D-Des Moines, a member of the House Public Safety Subcommittee, expressed concern about holding establishments accountable for activities that occur beyond their property. and to clarify which food establishments would be exempt.
“I think it has to be (limited) to the parking lot, something that they control,” Olson said.
He suggested lawmakers instead focus on changing the burden of proof required to revoke a beer, wine or liquor license before the ABD.
City of Davenport officials argue that the current code limiting the prevention of illegal activities to the licensed venue, including land and parking, allows landlords to sidestep liability by pushing fights and other illegal acts to another property. .
“What this bill does is recognize that there may be patrons of an alcohol establishment … who are drinking and maybe just outside the establishment, but not on the premises. permitted, create a nuisance to public safety,” Sarah Ott, chief strategy officer for the City of Davenport, said after the hearing.
Ott, however, said the city was willing to consider a different radius, “if that’s what helps push this through.” The city originally proposed within 1,500 feet for licensed premises.
Similar efforts failed to gain traction in the Iowa legislature in previous years due to concerns and objections from the Iowa restaurant and beverage industry.
Subcommittee chair Rep. Ross Paustian, R-Walcott, who introduced the bill, said he plans to work with lobbyists and lawmakers to change the legislation to make it more palatable, including by reducing or redefining the areas for which bars would be responsible for conduct. of employees and patrons.
Paustian called it “ridiculous” that a bar could generate more than 2,000 calls for service over a three-year period and still retain its license.
“We don’t need this kind of establishment in the city,” he said. “I’ll work to get it moving and see where it goes from there.”