Our View: No need for safe harbor
The city of Steamboat Springs’ new liquor ordinance has barely begun to produce results. Now is not the time to change it.
Last week, owners of businesses that sell alcohol asked the city to consider a “safe harbor” provision to the ordinance. Under such a provision, businesses that demonstrate they are adhering to strict policies regarding training of employees would be exempt from liquor license suspensions if an employee from the business sells alcohol to a minor.
Business owners think it is unfair to hold the business accountable for the actions of an employee if the business has taken the proper steps to educate the employee.
Although we understand the liquor business owners’ logic, we disagree with creating such a safe harbor.
Most businesses have training programs, but proper training alone does not excuse the businesses from liability for their employees’ actions.
If a worker does shoddy electrical work during the construction of a home, it is the contractor who will pay the price. If a reporter commits libel, it is the newspaper that will be held financially responsible. That accountability helps ensure that businesses not only train employees to do the right thing, but also follow up to make sure that they do.
It’s important to remember how we got to this point. Less than a year ago, the Steamboat Springs Police Department conducted a compliance check of area businesses that sell alcohol – nine of 11 stores sold alcohol to a minor without bothering to check ID.
Justifiably alarmed by such results, the City Council implemented a new policy requiring an administrative hearing for businesses that sell alcohol to minors. At the hearings, businesses can have their liquor licenses suspended.
The ordinance had been approved but not used by the time the next compliance check was conducted last December. That time, six of 16 businesses failed. At the hearings that followed, several of those businesses were given liquor license suspensions for as many as five days.
The suspensions apparently sent the right message. During a May check, just one of 13 stores failed. In June, just one of six businesses failed.
Before the city started suspending liquor licenses, the compliance check failure rate was greater than 55 percent. After the suspensions began, that rate dropped to 10 percent. It’s hard to believe there’s not a correlation.
We can sympathize with responsible alcohol vendors who fear being financially punished for the mistake of an employee. But the City Council has the discretion to take such matters into consideration during the administrative hearings. In fact, the council did just that at recent hearings for Fiesta Jalisco and Jade Summit. Fiesta Jalisco, which took quick action to rectify its employee error, received a lighter suspension than Jade Summit, whose owner served alcohol to a minor.
Adding a safe harbor provision to the liquor ordinance would only reduce the
incentive for business owners to be vigilant in preventing the sale of alcohol to minors. Although still relatively new, the ordinance seems to be effective. There is no reason to change it now.
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