By Gregg Hoffmann
LA CROSSE – The La Crosse Common Council has delayed action on a proposed public intoxication ordinance for 30 days, in part to give area college students a chance to learn details of it and react.
The measure would establish a $222 fine for the first offense and $537 fine for the second. The ordinance would allow police to issue a warning for a first offense and later citations if a person is impaired, mentally or emotionally, because of alcohol, drugs or a combination.
Evidence would include odor of intoxicants on the breath, bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, stumbling, staggering, slurred speech, danger to oneself or others, creating public nuisance or causing disturbance. Public nuisance includes being disoriented, falling, vomiting, public urination, or engaging in lewd, loud, profane or combative behavior.
Mayor Mark Johnsrud and police chief Ed Kondracki support the measure. After some initial concerns, the Tavern League also has endorsed some type of ordinance and said it will offer free rides home under its Safe Ride program.
Students fear the ordinance could actually discourage their peers from reporting problems with friends who might be drunk because of concerns about the fines and marks on their records. Student leaders have asked for the delay to hold sessions at UW-La Crosse, Viterbo and Western Technical College to educate students about the measure and offer input on it.
Administrators at the area schools have supported some type of ordinance.
The ordinance is the latest attempt to address alcohol problems in La Crosse. The problem drew more focus after a UW-L student drowned in the Mississippi River last year. Alcohol was a factor in that accident, one of several involving students and alcohol in recent years.
A special Alcohol Oversight Committee has been working on ways to address the alcohol problem for months.
Johnsrud said the ordinance could serve as a “model” for other communities trying to deal with binge drinking.
A Council committee recommended a delay after more than 160 people showed up at a public hearing recently and expressed concerns about the ordinance. The vote to delay on Thursday was 10-6, but Council members told students they do intend to eventually pass an ordinance and that student leaders should use the 30 days to educate their peers about the measure.