Something this big is going to take more than one meeting. Last night, the Bethel City Council postponed voting on stricter alcohol laws because they had so many amendments. Among the changes was increasing the two-bottle-per-day sales limit per customer to five bottles, modifying the business hours for liquor stores, and changing the fines for alcohol offenses.
Mayor Fred Watson, Vice-Mayor Thor Williams, and council members Fritz Charles and Carole Jung-Jordan voted to increase the limit to five bottles. Council members Leif Albertson, Mitchell Forbes, and Perry Barr opposed.
Council member Jung-Jordan argued the low limit could contribute to the social climate around alcohol and make the problems worse.
“You see people up and down the highway,” Jung-Jordan said, referring to intoxicated pedestrians. “They’ve never had it for their whole lives, and when they get it they can’t handle it.”
For Vice-Mayor Williams, it was all about freedom.
“A lot of people come to this state to live free and not be told how to live their lives,” Williams said.
On the other side, Mitchell Forbes said that peoples’ freedom to drink without limits affects the freedom of others.
“It’s kind of obnoxious for this council to say we need rights for chronic inebriates, but not for people who want to live in a quiet community,” said Forbes. He argued that two bottles a day is enough.“This is not in a week. This is not in a month. This is in a day.”
Many who opposed the limits on purchasing bottles still supported the effort to curb public consumption of alcohol.
“The open container law, once it’s passed, is going to make a huge difference on inebriated pedestrians,” said council member Fritz Charles.
Previously, police had to catch people literally in the act of swallowing alcohol. This ordinance would make just having an open bottle in public illegal.
Mayor Watson expects that will increase the number of citations for public consumption. “I can see hundreds, if not thousands of citations a year.”
The citations were originally going to increase in dollar amount for each offense, but the Mayor said, “To go look if it’s the first, second, third, fourth for each one would be arduous and painful.”
The amendment to simplify the fine passed. It would not increase for repeat offenders.
That action concluded almost two hours of discussion, and council members wanted to give the public a chance to review all the changes they made. They’ll take another look at the alcohol ordinance at the next meeting on July 23.