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Ole Miss voices support for Oxford’s proposed Alcohol Safety ordinance

The University of Mississippi is officially on board with the ordinance formerly known as the Downtown District ordinance, which was recently renamed to the Alcohol Safety ordinance, according to a statement from Dr. Brandi Hephner Labanc, vice chancellor for student affairs.

If passed during the Aug. 21 meeting of the Oxford Board of Aldermen, the ordinance will place new sanctions on bars and restaurants that serve alcohol in the City of Oxford. Designed to create a safer environment for citizens and discourage underage drinking, the ordinance has seen much discussion and revision since it was first introduced to the public in June.

In its current form, however, Hephner Labanc said the ordinance is aligned with the University’s desire to create a safe environment for its students.

“Over many years, the University has worked with the City and county to implement policies and ordinances aimed at reducing underage drinking and high-risk behaviors,” Hephner Labanc said. “The current proposed ordinance implements rules and requirements for restaurants, bars and similar businesses that will augment the University’s goals related to student safety.”

As it relates to University students and underage drinking, the ordinance will require businesses to use electronic age verification devices, such as ID scanners or a scanning app, to ensure underage patrons are either marked correctly or denied entry, depending on the business’s policy.

While agreeing that the ordinance is a solid start in combating underage drinking, both Oxford Police Chief Joey East and Alcoholic Beverage Commission Chief of Enforcement Rusty Hanna have acknowledged that the use of fake IDs could still be a problem, due to advanced technology outsmarting some scanners.

In a July 2 interview with the EAGLE, Hanna presented what he said was a fairly straightforward solution to the issue of underage patrons using fake IDs to enter bars: let them in.

“A lot of bars in college towns require you to be 21 to get in. Does that mean everyone in that bar is over 21?” Hanna said. “No. That means six out of 10 people has got a fake ID. Some of these kids just want to go dance and hang out with their friends. But they can’t get in without a fake ID, so you’re forcing people to get a fake ID if they want to get in. I know that’s not the majority of the reasons why people do it, but it is some.”

Instead of restricting entry altogether, Hanna said he’d go as far as suggesting allowing entry to those 18 and up, but charging underage patrons double the cover charge at the door, and if they leave and come back, they have to pay again. Doing so would allow those 18 to 20 to enjoy a good time with their friends while deterring underage drinking, he said.

More than 12 hours of public meetings have been held to discuss the ordinance, and even more time has been spent in one-on-one meetings with concerned business owners and residents, according to Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill.

Having such widespread community input is something Hephner Labanc said she applauded.

“We applaud the community for providing input and perspective, and we support the Mayor and Aldermen’s response to constituents and business owners that led to the current proposed ordinance,” Hephner Labanc said. “We are committed to continuing our work with the city and county on joint efforts to make Oxford safe and welcoming to all.”

Tannehill confirmed the ordinance will be on the agenda for the 5 p.m. board of aldermen meeting this Tuesday.

The ordinance will be scheduled for a third reading, and if they are ready to vote a motion will be entertained, Tannehill said.

To read the latest draft of the ordinance, visit http://www.oxfordms.net/board-of-aldermen-agenda.