Liquor card debate continues


Used under a Creative Commons license courtesy

Used under a Creative Commons license courtesy JOH_8394

The city council public safety committee has delayed a decision on whether to end liquor cards for workers.

The committee will take up the matter again in two weeks, after it tries to reach some kind of compromise.

The action came at the end of a second week of contentious public hearings.

Lee Lambert, vice president of the Independence Plaza Neighborhood council, noted that liquor cards began decades ago to control the mafia and he said bars still need controls. People convicted of many violent felonies can’t get the cards at all and many other felons are limited.

“Get rid of these and we’ll be turning the clock back 50 years,” Lambert said.

Mark Gipson, assistant Platte County prosecutor, said, “Why eliminate a safeguard that is already in place? Sometimes the biggest prediction of future behavior is your past.”

Restaurant and bar owners called the card requirement unfair and a needless burden on them and their workers.

The cards cost $42 for three years and everyone who has anything to do with liquor must get them, including those in retail sale, delivery, stocking, delivering, mixing, serving or assisting in mixing or serving.

Bill Nigro, Westport businessman, said bar and restaurant owners do their own background checks and do not need those that come with the city cards.

He and others said crimes like credit card fraud and sexual assault can happen related to any business.

“I think the liquor industry in this town has been singled out long enough,” Nigro said.

Eric Wesson, an ex-felon who manages a group to help ex felons, said the best way to promote public safety is to have felons employed.

Education and jobs are the main factors in reducing recidivism, he said, and the cost of the cards is also a burden.

“When you come out of prison, $42 is like needing a million dollars,” Wesson said.

Jim Ready, manager of the city Regulated Industries division, has opposed dropping the liquor cards.

The city has eased restrictions over the years from closing off the work to all felons to the most violent felons.

Some people can never get them:  those convicted of crimes that including murder, voluntary manslaughter, forcible rape, forcible sodomy, kidnapping, false imprisonment, child molestation, sexual abuse or attempting to commit any of those crimes.

Felons can get them eight years after conviction or release for crimes such as aggravated assault and armed robbery. They can get them after four years for drug sales or possession with intent to sell.

To go any farther, Ready says, would to put the public at too much risk.

He listed headlines from other cities that tell of bartenders and bar employees accused of raping customers.

He also noted that felons could steal credit card numbers from billing slips, and cited a 2009 case in Kansas City when a woman claimed workers in a nightclub raped her.

But business owners noted that the nightclub operated illegally to start with and said that bad things happen everywhere.

Bart Hickey, restaurant operator, said, “I

Just don’t understand why our industry is being singled out.”

“When alcohol is involved (and trouble breaks out),” he said, “it’s more likely to be another patron of the establishment, not the bartender.”

Councilman John Sharp said he did not support repealing the card requirement the way it was written.

But he said the city may go too far in requiring the cards for so many kinds of workers affiliated with alcohol in any way.

Sharp said he was most concerned about predators in bars taking advantage of people who are more vulnerable because they drink too much.

“If every business owner did a background check, it would be fine,” he said, “but some would not.”

Councilman Scott Wagner, who introduced the proposal to eliminate the cards, said the committee would use the next two weeks to focus on the most important issues.

“We need to distill it down to what the real concern is,” he said.

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