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Saturday, June 15, 2024
Let the bars be

State Street Brats bartender Matt Hill: Bartenders like Matt Hill will only be able to pour for customers under the mayor's new proposal.

Let the bars be

Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, may have summed it up best when he said, ""I believe it's a solution in search of a problem."" Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has revised his proposal that would prohibit bar owners and their employees from drinking while they serve alcohol so that it doesn't include entertainers (who are technically independent contractors) or those involved in sampling for quality purposes. However, said sampling would likely be limited to an indeterminate number of drinks per shift. Still, at least one revision was essential for this proposed ordinance if it was going appear plausible at all.

But the question still remains: Why did Cieslewicz and Ald. Michael Schumacher, District 18 propose this ordinance in the first place? Exactly what problem is it supposed to solve? Apparently the city of Madison is facing an epidemic of drunken bartenders. That seems to have been Schumacher's (hotly contested) view, at least at the time he co-sponsored the proposal. According to him, bartenders in the area have been ""stretching the envelope."" However, he is no longer sponsoring the proposal, so perhaps that is not his position any more.

What is the public opinion when it comes to bartenders, owners and other employees drinking while they serve alcohol? Popular culture has made its ruling already. It is a relatively common practice for a friendly patron to buy a bartender an occasional drink or for a bartender to simply have one. In the rare situation this custom is abused, just about any business in the world, be it a bar, restaurant or anything else, has an unspoken, and likely written, rule about getting drunk at work: It is not tolerated. Additionally, in that instance an existing Madison ordinance has been violated.

In reality, this proposed ordinance does not seem to be aimed at addressing any legitimate problem at all. Its roots have been traced back to an incident that happened during this past football season involving an intoxicated driver who was on her way to work and frustrated with the gameday traffic. Allegedly, she ignored the instructions of two police officers and ended up hitting one and running over the other's foot.

Why did this incident relate to laws governing bar employee conduct rather than to those governing drivers? She happened to be a sales representative for an alcohol company. This proposal is just a misdirected, knee-jerk reaction to a non issue. There are plenty of laws that cover circumstances like those of this woman––she was cited on a handful of charges by all three police jurisdictions involved. Would Cieslewicz's proposed ordinance have been applicable to her situation? Unless I am grossly misinformed about what it entails, the answer is a resounding ""No.""

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Another question that needs to be asked about this would-be ordinance is how on earth it would be enforced in any serious way? This would presumably involve some of the city's police officers––who had previously been spending their nights fighting real crime––being forced to spend their time giving breathalyzers to bartenders instead. The police departments do not need their jobs or budgets politicized any more than they already have been.

This proposal is a textbook example of an unwarranted attack on an industry that, like it or not, is and always will be a major part of this community. Business owners are the ones who are taking on the risks associated with owning and operating their businesses, and they're doing it in Wisconsin despite the already less-than-friendly tax and regulatory climate. If patrons don't like the rules at a particular business, they have the right to go somewhere else. If business owners don't like the government stepping on their toes, they're eventually going to leave the city or state for greener pastures, of which there are plenty at this point. And they'll be taking the jobs their businesses had created along with them.

Cieslewicz's proposed ordinance is redundant and bewilderingly unnecessary. In practice it will be yet another waste of already overstretched police resources that should be deployed in the direction of real crimes. But worst of all, it will be just one more reason for a potential business owner to reconsider setting up shop in Madison. There may be one advantage to an ordinance like this one, though. If enough businesses––and subsequently jobs––are driven away from Madison, perhaps the chances of someone in a bar having both the financial means and the good spirits to buy his or her bartender a drink will drop. And then maybe, finally, we will be free of the drunken bartender problem that has been plaguing us so mercilessly.

Ben Turpin is a junior majoring in psychology. Please send all feedback to

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