Oxford toughens local alcohol ordinance

Published 7:34 pm Friday, July 6, 2007

The city of Oxford wants the Mississippi Legislature to strengthen local governments’ ability to combat illegal alcohol sales.

The Oxford Board of Aldermen is circulating proposals to lawmakers and officials in Lafayette County and the University of Mississippi for changes in the state’s liquor laws, including mandatory jail time for first time DUI offenders.

The decision to seek changes in state law came this week after Oxford alderman toughened the city’s alcohol ordinance.

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Aldermen approved changes that will mean Oxford businesses will face a loss of their beer permits and business privilege licenses for repeated violations, including serving underage drinkers.

Restaurants and bars will have to name a compliance representative, who will then be trained in alcohol regulations by the Oxford Police Department.

“If you hit them in the pocketbook, that’s going to get their attention,” Interim Police Chief Mike Martin said. “The education aspect of the law is going to help, too.”

Previously suspensions of permits had been handled by the state and affected only liquor licenses.

A first violation by any business will mean a suspension of beer and light wine privileges for two weeks followed by a year’s probation, with higher penalties the second time. With a third violation, beer and light wine privileges will be revoked for at least two years. Repeat violations will make bartenders ineligible to work in alcohol-serving establishments.

Under the new ordinance, a minor in possession of alcohol or who gives a false ID to get alcohol will be subject to a $200-$500 fine and up to 30 days’ community service. Either penalty, however, can be reduced or suspended upon completion of an approved alcohol rehabilitation program.

Mayor Richard Howorth said his city has pushed restrictions and punishment as far as it can under state law.

“There are some things that are problems in this community that need to be addressed by the state Legislature,” Howorth said.

Howorth said lawmakers should make jail time mandatory for anyone caught driving under the influence.

“There are many states that require automatic jail sentences of two days, 10 days, two weeks or whatever,” Howorth said. “There are many misdemeanors in this state that require jail time for offenses that are far less dangerous than first-offense DUI.”

In addition to the jail time, aldermen want first-time DUI offenders to lose their driver’s licenses for six months to one year.

To get better control of the false ID problem, Howorth said there should be a minimum fine of $500 and that the same penalty should be imposed on anyone knowingly lending an ID for use by another person.