12/22/2014

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Politics

Supporters say 'alcohol impact zones' needed to curb crime

Supporters say 'alcohol impact zones' needed to curb crime

PORTLAND, Ore. – A bill that supporters say is designed to help cities cut down on crime associated with street drinking had its first hearing at the Capitol on Friday.

It was something Portland had tried to do once before.

In 2010, Portland city commissioners wanted to carve out an alcohol impact zone across downtown. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission initially gave the city the green light to begin work on the proposal. So employees put in two years of work and taxpayer money, but last year the OLCC told the city it did not have the power to enforce such a ban.

Critics of the bill counter it will hurt Oregon craft breweries and wineries and limit some of the products consumers might want to buy.

On Friday night in Portland’s Old Town-Chinatown neighborhood, it only took a few minutes to spot a police officer writing two men up for street drinking.

It's what supporters of House Bill 2702 have in mind.

"It's dangerous, and it happens a lot, especially in our entertainment district," said City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is leading the push for alcohol impact areas that let cities limit sales of low-cost, high-alcohol drinks in order to curb crime.

"It been shown to cut down on the problem behavior," she said.

But inside Peterson's in downtown Portland, owner Doug Peterson worries the bill will hit high-end wines with a high-alcohol content.

"I'm for reasonable restriction on those items that are truly problem alcohol that they find with the street drinkers," he said. "... (street drinkers) are drinking the Four Loko, the malt liquors like Olde English 800, the fortified wines."

Peterson doesn’t sell those products.

"It attracts the wrong crowd," he said. "My customers are the tourists and the business people in downtown Portland."

But he does sell plenty of microbrews, which could also be limited because of alcohol content and size.

"And so we would no longer be able to carry 16-ounce cans. We could only sell 12-ounce cans," he said.

Asked whether there needs to be some sort of clarification in the bill for microbrews and the high-end wines before it can move forward, Fritz said "It doesn't necessarily need to be clarified at this stage."

Fritz doesn't want to slow down the bill and the alcohol impact areas, but she hopes the Legislature eventually makes sure high-end wine and microbrews are not lumped in with street drinking.

"That's not our intention. And so we certainly are willing to work with the grocery association and the restaurants and others to make sure that's not what happens," she said.

Friday's House committee hearing in Salem is only the start of the process. Supporters will need to convince the House and Senate to approve the bill.

A variety of business interests are fighting the current version of the bill.

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