By Gregg Hoffmann
La Crosse – A large crowd voiced strong opposition to a public intoxication ordinance Tuesday night, forcing a city committee to delay action on it for 60 days.
A total of 167 people signed in opposition at the meeting of the La Crosse Common Council Judiciary and Administration Committee while only seven signed in support of the measure.
The proposed ordinance sets a $222 fine for a first offense for anyone found “impaired, mentally or emotionally as a result of alcohol. Evidence includes, but isn’t limited to odor of intoxicants on the breath, bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, stumbling, staggering, slurred speech, being danger to oneself or others, or creating a public nuisance or disturbance.”
A violator who goes to an alcohol and drug assessment program could reduce the fine to $50. The violation would be removed from the person’s record if no further violations happen within a year.
The measure is the latest attempt to address a public intoxication problem which became more of a focus after a UW-La Crosse student drowned in the Mississippi River last year. Eight young people have drowned in the river over the last decade. Intoxication has been a factor in several of the drownings.
A special committee has been considering solutions for the problems ranging from a fence at Riverside Park to education programs and the ordinance.
UW-L students and tavern owners called for the delay. Student leaders said the proposed ordinance was too vague and could actually discourage students from calling police if there is a problem.
The Tavern League has called for a 90-day delay in passing an ordinance. The league does not oppose all public intoxication ordinances, but the proposed measure is too vague and was drafted without input from students and tavern owners, league officials claim.
Mayor Mark Johnsrud urged passage of the ordinance and added the city could issue warnings for 30 days.
Officials from UW-L and Western Technical College spoke for the ordinance. Police Chief Edward Kondracki called the ordinance “a critical piece of the current tremendous community effort” to deal with the city’s binge drinking issues.