Later local bar times unlikely

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 24, 2003

Some of Austin's City Council members have serious doubts about the benefits of extending bar hours from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he was going to sign a bill passed by the legislature allowing local governments to extend the mandatory closing time for local bars.

It would take effect Aug. 1 of this year, but it is up to city councils to institute the new times in their own towns.

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Austin City Council members could not give a definite yea or nay without discussing it with each other, local law enforcement and bar owners in town, but most initial impressions were negative.

"I'm still not in favor of it," Lynn Koch, who represents the 1st Ward, said. "I don't see the benefits, and I can only see additional problems with the drunk driving issues."

Mickey Jorgenson, also from the 1st Ward, agreed with Koch. She hopes the issue will not be put in front of the council by bar owners.

"I hope that doesn't happen," she said. "I just don't think it's necessary, and I don't think it's wise. I couldn't support it."

She too mentioned an increase in drunk driving as her main concern.

Second Ward Council Member Dick Pacholl has talked with some bar owners about the issue. He said many of them do not support the change.

"They don't want to stay that extra time," he said. "They're not gaining anything."

He said he is glad the final decision has been left to city councils.

Third Ward Council Member Pete Christopherson does not have a problem with the change, but he said the issue is not a priority for him. Bar owners need to take the initiative, he said.

"I'm not going to push it unless they push it," he said. "For me, it's not on the top burner."

Police Chief Paul Philipp said he is more concerned with rowdy behavior than he is with drunk driving. He said the police would have an extra hour of dealing with things like bar fights.

Christopherson said that is a valid issue to discuss, but he thinks with people currently going to after-bar parties, "you're going to have that element anyway."

Supporters in the legislature hope the change will keep bar patrons in the state and also think that there will be more conventions held in Minnesota if the closing times are later.

Legislators included in the bill the addition of about 50 state troopers, the funding for which will come from state profits on sales tax and a fee participating bars will pay.

Koch said the extra troopers do not make up for the fact that lives could be in jeopardy with an increase in drunk driving.

(Editor's note: On Monday local bar owners and law enforcement weigh in on later bar hours).

Matt Merritt can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at