A flurry of complaints caused the City Council to punt Thursday on a sweeping rewrite of laws governing New Orleans businesses that sell alcohol. The council put off action for a month.
The proposal, which would update rules on bars and other establishments that haven’t had a major rewrite in decades, has been discussed and revised for years. But it was revised again substantially this summer in a bid to address concerns raised by businesses about a version introduced late last year.
Some critics claimed not to have had the chance to review those latest edits. Others criticized what they had read, notably a provision allowing the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to suspend liquor-selling permits for unspecified emergencies.
The exact scenarios in which the board could do so would be decided by the council later, the document said.
Other amendments would allow hotels with more than one bar to pay for only one permit and would allow permits to people who have had misdemeanor convictions or who do not live in Louisiana.
Council members supporting the new rules said they were designed to give responsible businesses clear guidelines to abide by and to give the city a better way to penalize businesses that violate the rules.
New Orleans City Council to drop controversial proposal for surveillance at businesses selling alcohol
“This isn’t about targeting certain types of businesses or trying to change the culture of New Orleans,” Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer said.
But Councilman Jason Williams, after questioning sections of the proposed rules and listening to complaints from some in the audience, balked at the idea that the proposal needed to be passed Thursday.
“Very rarely do we have a room full of people and nobody is in favor of what we are doing,” Williams said. Yet that was the case Thursday, he suggested.
Recent attempts to overhaul rules for the city’s bars date back to Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, which introduced and then shelved a proposal to force bars to install cameras on their premises.
The effort to substantially revise rules that have not had a major overhaul since the 1950s was picked up again by the current City Council and Mayor LaToya Cantrell, and an earlier version of the overhaul was introduced in December.
That draft still called for cameras at certain bars but was revised substantially after numerous complaints from entertainers, bartenders and business owners.
The latest version implements “95% to 99%” of what those critics wanted, Palmer said.
There is no longer a requirement for cameras. However, businesses would be at risk of having their permits suspended or revoked if they sell alcohol to minors, allow improper conduct within their establishments, refuse an inspection or for a host of other reasons.
Emergency suspension powers would still be granted to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, but only after rules for such suspensions are approved by the council.
The Police Department, Fire Department and state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Board would retain the right to shut businesses down for cause.
Still, critics said the rules would go too far in some cases and not far enough in others. Ike Spears, a political operative and attorney who spoke on behalf of the French Quarter Business League, said any changes, if not properly vetted, could result in “lots and lots of litigation” for the city.
“My strong suggestion is, please vote this ordinance down … (or) defer, so that we can have more meaningful discussion,” he said.
Lyn Archer, a Bourbon Street dancer, added that the emergency suspension privileges could be used to punish businesses during lucrative times of the year, such as Carnival.
“This document gives more power to the city and state to (pick on) venues they call ‘problem (businesses),'” she said. “I’m wondering how many ‘states of emergency’ you will fabricate until you can cut the ribbon when we (dancers) are gone.”
After hearing the complaints, Williams called for a delay, adding that he took issue with the proposal’s failure to allow felons the right to a permit and on other points. His colleagues eventually agreed to hold off voting until Sept. 19.
But members Jay H. Banks, Cyndi Nguyen and Palmer questioned the sense of repeated deferrals.
“We have been working on this for a while, and it appears that every time that we (get ready to) vote on this, something pops up,” Nguyen said. “I want to get this right … but we gotta wrap this up.”