The Casper City Council has agreed to nix the part of a potential new alcohol ordinance that would have made it unlawful to serve alcohol to a person who’s already clearly intoxicated.
The ordinance, which needed to pass three rounds of voting to take effect, passed its first vote last month, with only Vice Mayor Shawn Johnson and Councilwoman Khrystyn Lutz objecting. But after receiving feedback from the community, the Council decided last week to hold off on the second vote until the matter could be further discussed.
At last week’s work session, Councilwoman Lutz suggested focusing on educational efforts.
“Wouldn’t that be worth a try before we turn it into a crime?” she asked.
Councilman Steven Freel agreed.
“We are going from crawling to running, and we’re not even stopping long enough to learn how to walk,” he said.
Freel said he understood that the city’s demerit system for liquor license holders has proven to be ineffective.
Under the current system, the Council can’t begin to take disciplinary action until a liquor license holder has reached 125 points within a one-year time frame. Many violations are 25 points, including serving alcohol to minors, selling alcohol outside of the established hours or failing to maintain exits and emergency escapes.
But instead of making it unlawful to serve someone who’s intoxicated, Freel said the city should make it mandatory for all servers to undergo TIPS training within 90 days of being hired. According to its website, “TIPS is a skills-based training program designed to prevent intoxication, underage drinking, and drunk driving.”
“You can’t just hire somebody today and write them a ticket tomorrow (because they didn’t realize a patron was drunk),” he said. “… Let’s provide them with the training they need.”
Establishments that don’t follow the new rule should potentially lose their liquor licenses, Freel said.
The Council cannot take official action during a work session, but all council members agreed that focusing on education was a good middle ground.
But Councilman Chris Walsh said the city’s leaders should closely monitor the outcome to ensure these steps were sufficient in deterring alcohol-related crimes.
The Council is also planning to draft a resolution stating that it will reconsider making overservice unlawful if the mandatory training proves to be ineffective.
Matt Galloway, the owner of several bars in Casper and the acting president of the Natrona County Liquor Dealers, said Wednesday that he was pleased by the Council’s decision.
“I don’t think there is a magic bullet (for preventing alcohol-related crimes) but I’ve been a huge advocate from day one that education and training outweigh prosecution,” he said. “I think a lot more can be achieved by educating and training our staff, from the servers and bartenders to the managers and security.”
Mike Reid, who co-owns Poplar Wine and Spirits, said he already requires his staff to undergo TIPS training. It’s a beneficial program and he believes making it mandatory will be a step in the right direction.
“We don’t want to overserve anybody, but sometimes it just happens,” he said. “Some people can be pretty good at disguising (their intoxication level) until they have that one more drink that just gets them. ... I think this is a great compromise.”
Police Chief Keith McPheeters, who proposed the new ordinance, has said tighter rules are needed because the overservice of alcohol is a serious problem in Casper.
Fifty-nine percent of people in the city who are booked into jail are intoxicated and almost half of all drivers arrested for DUIs are more than the twice the legal limit, according to the chief.
But some servers and bar owners argued that this potential new law could end up punishing servers who did nothing wrong. Some patrons may appear to be less intoxicated than they actually are, they said, and others might order some drinks at the bar and then drink out of their own alcohol supply in the bathroom.
The new ordinance wouldn’t have just applied to those serving alcohol at establishments. Citizens who serve alcoholic beverages at their private homes could also have been held accountable for overserving.