SE IA bar loses liquor license in smoking dispute

The head of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division today issued his decision on the plight of two bar owners accused of allowing patrons to continue smoking past July 1, 2008 — the date Iowa's Smoke-Free Air Act went into effect. It means a southeast Iowa bar will be closed and bar in Wilton will not be able to serve booze for a month.  A call to the office of the Burlington attorney who represented both bar owners reveals the attorney is on vacation. Read Pat Curtis' story here on Radio Iowa.  Pat spoke to bar owner Brian Froehlich who owns Fro's Pub 'N Grub in Wilton and who has been a leader in group of bar owners who've sued to try to overturn the Smoke-Free Air Act. 

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has just issued a statement.  Read it below.

Liquor Licenses Revoked, Suspended for Violations of Smokefree Air Act
Otis Campbell’s in West Burlington has license revoked.
Fro’s in Wilton has license suspended for 30 days

            Des Moines. Otis Campbell’s Bar in West Burlington has lost its liquor license as the result of its “persistently and continually” refusing to comply with the Iowa Smokefree Air Act.
            Another bar, Fro’s, in Wilton, Iowa, has had its liquor license suspended for 30 days also because of violations of the law.
            The decisions came today in separate orders from  Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division Administrator Lynn Walding.  The actions resolve two of 38 liquor license complaints brought by the Attorney General’s Office since the Smokefree law took effect July 1, 2008.
            An Administrative Law Judge had imposed a 30-day suspension on Otis Campbell’s, but ABD Administrator Walding cited the bar’s “blatant, intentional and on-going violations” in revoking the license.  Walding said in his order he has “no assurance that, upon completion of a suspension, the Licensee will not revert back to a pattern and practice of disregard of the Iowa Smokefree Air Act.”  Walding also said he would be willing to consider reinstating the liquor license in the future if Otis Campbell’s is willing to comply with the law and serve a suspension.  The revocation is effective immediately.
            In the case of Fro’s bar, Walding increased the period of suspension from 21 days recommended by the Administrative Law Judge to a 30-day suspension.  Walding said the 21-day proposed suspension was not consistent with prior sanctions for comparable offenses.  He noted in the decision that while the bar had come into compliance with the law at the time of hearing in November, it had previously “on numerous occasions elected to not do so.”  Walding ordered the Fro’s suspension to begin May 8 and end June 7.

            Attorney General Miller said:  “Liquor license holders are obligated to obey all Iowa laws as a condition of their privilege to hold a license.  We are determined to enforce this new law — because it is the law, and because it saves lives.  The huge majority of Iowa businesses are obeying the law, and we will not allow a small, vocal minority to flout the law,” he said.
            “There is no doubt in my mind that the Iowa Smokefree Air Act is working, and it is saving Iowans’ lives,” Miller said.  “The adult smoking rate in the state has dropped from 19% to 14% over the last two years — in part because the Iowa Smokefree Air Act has encouraged people to quit.  Lives of smokers and non-smokers alike are being saved.  Iowans are healthier because of this law.”
            Miller praised Iowa businesses for overwhelmingly complying with the new law.  He said that of over 82,000 businesses in the state, the State Department of Public Health has received complaints against only 917 — about 1%.  And Miller noted that some of those complaints had to do with technical issues associated with the startup of the new law, such as placement of signs.
Smokefree Air Act actions against liquor licenses:
            “Actions against liquor licenses are one of our most effective enforcement tools,” Miller said.  “The principle is simple:  Holders of liquor licenses are obligated to follow Iowa law, all Iowa law.  If they break the law, their licenses may be suspended or revoked.”
            The Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of the Department of Public Safety, has filed 38 administrative hearing complaints with the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division (ABD) since the law took effect, seeking to suspend the liquor licenses of businesses for violating the Smokefree Air Act.
            Three of those cases have now been resolved.  In addition to the two orders issues today another case was resolved recently through a negotiated settlement agreement.  “The Keg” in Ottumwa agreed to serve a seven-day suspension of its liquor license and pay a civil penalty of $1,000.  The suspension is scheduled to begin May 13.
            “My office will continue to use all the enforcement tools available to us, including both civil penalties and actions against liquor licenses,” Miller said.  “In addition to the liquor license cases, we have sought civil penalties for 11 violations of the law,” he said.
            “We will continue working with local law enforcement officials around the state to give them the tools to make this law a success,” Miller said.  “The law is working, and we will continue to play our part in enforcement in order to ensure Iowa’s laws are obeyed, and to protect the health of every Iowan.”

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.