At Tuesday’s meeting, the Statesboro City Council came within striking distance of finally reaching an agreement for new alcohol ordinances. The city has been plagued with how to handle the issuance of alcohol licenses and manage the regulation of restaurants and other establishments they refuse to official label “bars” since long before I was a resident of the greater Bulloch County metropolis. However, the desire to make comprehensive changes obviously came to the forefront of with the tragic death of Michael Gatto in 2014.
So, when the City was within inches of voting to pass measures to strengthen the review process of alcohol licenses, reinstate a new Alcohol Control Board, and enact harsher punishments on businesses and individuals who violate new ordinances, it appeared there was for much to rejoice – an agreement, a consensus, a solution. That is until Councilman Travis Chance asked city attorney Alvin Leaphart if the ordinance included the insurance mandate for businesses. When Leaphart responded that it was not included, there was a stiff tension in the room as the solution and the consensus seemed to slip from the fingertips of the council.
Chance, along with others, discussed at length the desire to require these “not-restaurant-but-not-bar establishments that serve alcohol to persons over the age of 21” to carry insurance. Propositions included requiring additional liability insurance and a minimum amount as well as alcohol insurance standalone coverage which ultimately resulted in sending the city attorney back to the drawing board.
While I have no doubt that Councilman Chance’s questions and desires are well-intentioned, I must respectfully disagree.
It is not, nor has it ever been, the role of the city council or any legislative body to establish an avenue for an individual or entity to seek additional damages when seeking damages is already provided for by law. It is wrong to enact new laws and ordinances because of one tragedy that falls into the “outlier status” of all the other overarching problems facing the city with regard to alcohol violations. Just because Rude Rudy’s did not have the appropriate level insurance for the family of Michael Gatto to sue for exorbitant amounts does not mean Statesboro needs to reinvent the wheel.
I had the opportunity to work with the sponsor of ‘Michael’s Law’ in 2015 when he was crafting the legislation. Representative Geoff Duncan originally had an insurance mandate in the bill, but it was removed because of the undue burden it would place on businesses and because it was found to be the improper role of government. Instead, the bill raised the age of bouncers from 18 to 21 and strengthened reporting standards for local governments to the Department of Revenue, something the City of Statesboro has already put into effect…and then some.
The City of Statesboro, after all of the negative press following the Gatto death, should focus on one thing: preventing future accidents and deaths. Of course, this approach should be reasonable, but city officials must remember where they can actually affect change. Providing for a greater police presence, following up to ensure over 21 establishments are checking ID’s, and establishing an Alcohol Compliance Board to oversee reporting and issuance of licenses is a much more effective strategy than making it more expensive to operate a business.
Businesses already have property, casualty, liability insurance, and in many cases, an additional umbrella policy. Mandating that a businesses carry an additional form of insurance does nothing to ensure the law is enforced, it does nothing to reduce or discourage underage drinking, it does not protect businesses from future lawsuits, and it does nothing to protect the population these ordinances seek to address.
Statesboro has an alcohol ordinance problem – one that has made it difficult for both the city officials and police officers to enforce. The City Council has worked tirelessly over 18 months to remedy the situation and craft decent policy that works in the interest of public safety – a legitimate purpose of local government. I would hate to see them circle the drain after all of this work for a measly mandate that will do nothing to prevent future tragedies or incidents and will only increase the cost of doing business in the City of Statesboro.