Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How laws are made

One of the ongoing news items this month has been the application of Marcus Theaters for a liquor license at the Grand, their multi-screen downtown movie house. It seems that some people are just becoming aware of a municipal ordinance (5.04 .120) that prohibits people 15 and under from being in a licensed liquor establishment after 9:00 PM, unless accompanied by someone 21 or older.

I don't think we're exactly awash in junior high kids trolling bars in Lincoln. I can only recall a couple of times in the past quarter century where we've needed to pull this ordinance out of the book in response to a problem. Actually, I may have violated it myself as a 15 year-old in the spring of 1969, in the same circumstances as this affair the following year on January 9, 1970--although I suspect Valentino's did not yet hold a liquor license.

Some people wonder why we have such a law in the first place. I have a theory, which I described a few years ago. Do you think the problems of Mrs. Dennis, Mrs. Shaw and mothers in similar circumstances may have gotten a little worse when a few thousand members of the Army Air Forces came to town in 1942?

Officer Hulda Roper (for whom Roper Elementary School is named) would certainly know. She followed Matron Rickard into the police force in 1944. By then, Chief Joe Carroll had replaced the politically-incorrect job title of Matron with the (now) politically-incorrect job title of Policewoman. One night in late October of 1949, Hulda fired up the audience at the First Evangelical United Brethren Church.

Apparently not only brethren were present. City council member Fern Hubbard Orme introduced an ordinance, and the Lincoln Council of Church Women rallied support.

The Public Safety Director, never far from a reporter's notebook, weighed in on the legal nuance concerning the definition of "taverns".

Thus, thereafter the tots were tossed from taverns at 2100.

And that's how laws are made. In 1949, there were a few dozen "beer taverns" and a handful of private bottle clubs in Lincoln. Liquor by the drink inside the city limits didn't come along until the mid 1960s. No one in 1949 would have envisioned that bowling allies, music halls, arcades, family restaurants, airports, hotels, golf courses, and a laundromat would have liquor licenses--much less a sushi place or a motion picture theater. Nor would they have imagined that two high school sophomores would be violating the law by patronizing a pizza parlor after a high school basketball game.

My first visit to a theater with a liquor license was in Dallas several years ago. It had really nice seats, cocktail tables, some decent small-plates, and a nice selection of beers and wine by the glass--quite similar to the Marcus Midtown in Omaha. It seemed a very low-risk drinking environment. As much as I might long for a return to the days when not every single activity demanded alcohol be served, the fact is that we also need more low-risk drinking environments where the alcohol is a small part of the experience, and not the main attraction--as an alternative to Ms. Rickard's poetic description of the aftermath of a binge 65 years ago, that hasn't changed much since:
"Did succeed in getting her to erp in the toilet. Oh my, I didn't want the lunch I had brought. My lungs are filled with the smell of foulness and liquor. I sure need a cigarette, but am out of them. These night drunks are awful." 


Steve said...

LJS has given considerable coverage to this issue recently. It would seem public opinion is split on the advisability of allowing liquor in theaters based on comments to those articles. Your examples of how liquor licenses have proliferated in previously unlikely venues points out the "foot in the door" effect on the ability to persauade people. I found an interesting study on that effect (

It would seem our ordinance is routinely violated and not enforced, which is the case with quite a number of city ordinances (and probably state and federal laws as well). It is understandable to the extent that we simply don't have the forces necessary to enforce all our laws all the time. It seems the policy of only enforcing laws when a complaint has been made is reasonable in many of these situations. An example might be a car parked too close to the end of my driveway. Most likely no one cares unless it were me. So, if I don't care, you could say, "No harm, no foul."

It was suggested that this "by complaint only" enforcement of the law prohibiting young folk in establishments that sell liquor might be reasonable. However, in a case like this, I think there are enough people who oppose the idea that there would be numerous complaints even if those complaining suffered no direct impact, but rather simply didn't like the idea. If this was the case, and the law was enforced, it would significantly affect a lot of businesses.

I'm wondering in this situation if police and/or prosecutors could legally ignore the complaints. It seems we have no legal process to officially stop enforcement. I have personally been involved in situations where a law was being broken, a complaint was made, and police refused to do anything about it. I'm wondering what you think will, or should happen, in regard to this problem.

Anonymous said...

Was that also the first documented POP project?

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 8:48,

Oh, I wouldn't think so. I imagine Case Number 1 was the result of a POP project.

Tom Casady said...


If you took enforcement action for every violation you saw, you wouldn't make it very far from the station door. It's illegal to expectorate on a sidewalk or to flip a cigarette butt on the ground. Go look around 14th and O and count the butts and blobs of chewing gum.

There are many, many statutes and ordinances that are only enforced upon complaint, or when the most obvious and egregious violations occur.

Nobody is going into pizza parlors to card high schoolers. On the other hand, if a topless joint was being frequented by 15 year-olds after 9:00 PM, I can assure you it would draw the attention of the constable.

Steve said...


I totally understand and agree. My question is, what will happen when those who oppose liquor sales at the theater (or anywhere for that matter) start making complaints to police about violations of the ordinance in question? I'd be surprised if someone doesn't complain about a pizza parlor or bowling alley violating the ordinance now that it has become news.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I am old fashioned or just a fuddy duddy but I do not understand why everyone seems to think that in order to have a good time alchol must be involved.

I can go out with family or friends and partake of a lot of activies and have a great time without touching one drop of alcohol.

Please do not misunderstand me I have drank and on occissions I will go out to an estibilishment and have a drink.

I personally believe that Lincoln has enough estibilishments selling alcohol that theaters do not need to start selling it also.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one to notice the bullet hole beside the last news article? Seems like someone did not like that one! :)