New Beer Ordinance

Lawton_Two strikes and you're out.  Lawton stores caught selling alcohol to minors twice in two years risk losing their liquor license.

The Lawton City Council decided Tuesday to increase the penalty for selling to those under 21 years of age.  The former city code revoked licenses from businesses caught selling to minors three times in a two year span, but now it's just two.

Ward 8 City Council member Randy Warren proposed the change at a Council meeting last month after seeing a 7-News report in April about the growing number of places caught selling to minors.  The council decided to review the current law and discuss it further at later meetings.

However, even after the 7-News report in June about the proposal of the new harsher penalty, Lawton City Attorney John Vincent say some liquor stores completely ignored the city's focus on stopping sales to minors.

"Even after all the publicity of this being tabled and considered and brought back, they ran another sting operation and hit three out of four," said Vincent.

It was a small sting, but still a failure rate of 75 per cent.  In larger stings this year, police typically found 25 per cent of stores sold to minors.

"It is a major problem all over this state and it's a real problem right in our area," said Ward 3 Council member Janice Drewry.  "I don't know the answer, but we have to start somewhere."

Warren said he would support revoking licenses after just one offense.  He says giving businesses a second-chance is a good start, but the old rules gave them multiple second-chances, and that was too many.

"Hopefully it will wake up some retailers," he said.  "We don't have a lot of problems; we have some individuals that cause a lot of problems."

Warren said the state did a great job making driver's licenses that show whether a person is legal or not.  For those 21 and older, the i.d. is horizontal.  The i.d. cards for minors are vertical, and have a box which highlights in yellow when a person turns 18--and can buy cigarettes--and in red when they turn 21.

"You have to almost intentionally sell to a minor," Warren told the other council members at Tuesday's meeting.  He showed them examples of the different i.d. cards.

"You have to either not ask for an i.d. or not look at it when they give it to you.  You don't have to do any math to see if they're legal or not."

In the past, only the salesperson caught selling to a minor had to pay a fine.  First offenders faced a fine of $350 and the maximum fine was $750.  Those fines still stand, but the new ordinance penalizes the boss, too.

"There's a little bit more pressure now on the owner of that store, or the managers of the store for absentee-owners, to be a lot more attentive," said Warren.  "They need to train their employees a little better, and to make sure they've got employees who will follow the law."

Lawton won't automatically revoke licenses after the second offense.  The city attorney's office will apply to revoke the license and then a hearing will be held before a municipal judge.  This provides some protection for owners, in case they have a disgruntled employee trying to get them in trouble.

The new ordinance goes into effect August 21.