City Council debates underage drinking, public drunkenness laws at Monday meeting


Daily file photo by Jacob Wendler

Members of Evanston City Council. Alderpeople referred two ordinances related to underage drinking and public intoxication to the Alternatives to Arrest Committee at Monday’s meeting.

Saul Pink, Reporter

City Council debated two ordinances related to underage drinking and public drunkenness, which were both ultimately referred to the Alternatives to Arrest Committee, at Monday’s meeting.

The first ordinance suggested removing a portion of the city code that makes it illegal for those under the age of 19 to be in the presence of other underage people who are drinking. The second ordinance recommended that a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol not walk “without adequate assistance to reasonably mitigate the hazard” or be allowed to operate a bicycle or scooter.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) recommended both ordinances. The council voted to refer both proposals to the Alternatives to Arrest Committee, with Mayor Daniel Biss breaking a 3-3 tie on both votes. 

“Do we want to criminalize (teenagers) that are not underage drinking?” Reid said. “They are, in fact, just in a place where underage drinking may be taking place.”

Interim Police Chief Richard Eddington said the first rule — making it a violation for individuals under the age of 19 to be present with people underage drinking — is a tool police use rarely to help combat underage drinking. He cited parties during Northwestern’s Dillo Day as an example of when this rule could be applied. But, Reid said the rule is an example of “overpolicing.”

In the second ordinance, Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said the wording “without adequate assistance to reasonably mitigate the hazard” is too vague and recommended it be removed from the law. 

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said the ordinance would essentially make it illegal for people to walk on the sidewalk while drunk.

“If you’re at a bar and you have one too many, and you don’t want to drive home, you don’t have an option,” he said. 

Reid suggested people should take an Uber or taxi, but Nieuwsma said not everybody has the ability to pay for such transportation.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) recommended referring the two items to the Alternatives to Arrest Committee instead of acting on them at the meeting. 

Biss expressed concern that the committee is defunct. The committee’s chair, former Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd), resigned from City Council earlier this month, but the committee has not met since October 2020. 

The Alternatives to Arrest Committee was formed to “reduce the number of young adults that have a difficult time finding a job later in life” by finding alternatives to arrest for misdemeanors, according to the city website. 

“(The committee) would have to be at a minimum reawakened, perhaps even repopulated,” Biss said. 

The council is down to eight members with Braithwaite’s resignation. Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) was not present at the meeting and Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) was not in the council chamber for the two votes on drinking laws. 

Councilmembers did not state a timeline for when the Alternatives to Arrest Committee will review these ordinances. The council also voted 6-0 to establish a maximum fine of $50 for any person under 21 who attempts to purchase alcohol or cannabis. Councilmembers approved liquor licenses for three businesses, including the AMC movie theater set to reopen at 1715 Maple Avenue.

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Twitter: @saullpink

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