Serving permitted? 

The City's new 'bar card' ordinance passes its second reading.

At the City Council meeting last Thursday, the new “bar card” ordinance – the plan to instate mandatory training and licensing for servers in bars and hybrid establishments – passed its second reading.

The scope of the ordinance has returned to its original phrasing, and won’t require restaurants or package stores to license employees, however, all licensed establishments in the city will be required to provide training for their employees.

There are lingering concerns about excluding restaurants from the licensing part of the ordinance.

Alderman Van Johnson says that by ignoring restaurants council is “leaving an unintentional loophole.”
Part of the ordinance’s purpose is to prohibit servers from getting another job serving alcohol after they have been cited for serving to underage patrons. Johnson and others are concerned that the ordinance allows problem servers to get jobs in restaurants that aren’t classified as hybrids, but which serve alcohol.

Bar owners and staff said during a public meeting in July that ignoring restaurants was evidence that the ordinance was unfairly targeting them, particularly since they have doormen who card patrons while most restaurants do not.

The City Manager has repeatedly stated that problems with underage drinking are happening predominantly in bars, clubs and hybrids. He reiterated that at Thursday’s meeting, and said that it would be better to “focus on the problem” and then “revisit” the ordinance for fine–tuning if needed.

“I hope we will not stop here,” says Alderman Tony Thomas, who wants to also encourage City Council to make stricter punishments for those attempting to drink underage.

Servers in establishments affected by the ordinance will have to pay $25 to register with the Department of Revenue for their server’s license, which will include a background check and fingerprinting. It is unclear whether the cost of training was included in that fee, but Brown stated during the council meeting that the arrangements for training courses would have to be contracted from approved training programs by local business owners.

Some members of the service industry remain concerned about the background checks that will be required because certain offenses will disqualify them from being able to obtain a server license.

According to the ordinance “Any person who has been convicted of a violation of any law...governing the sale of alcoholic beverages, crimes of moral turpitude, violent crimes, or possession of illegal drugs in the thirty six months immediately preceding the date of application shall be ineligible.”

One of the major questions for servers remains how “moral turpitude” will be defined. Although the term is referenced more than 91 times in the Georgia Code – mostly relating to standards of professional conduct – according to a spokesman for the State Attorney General there is no formalized definition in the Code or the State Constitution.

According to one dictionary, the term is defined as “an inherent quality of baseness, vileness or depravity with respect to a person’s duty to another or to society in general.”

The lack of clear definition has been argued by high courts across the country, including several recent cases where it was used as grounds to deport illegal aliens for shoplifting.

The term’s vague definition is not a new issue. In 1975, Florida’s Assistant Attorney General wrote a legal opinion that said DUI, drunkenness, disorderly conduct and assault were not “moral turpitude,” but further review would be necessary for a charge of larceny.

In the 34 subsequent years not much progress has been made. An article in the Houston Criminal Law Journal in February acknowledged moral turpitude as “a legal term...with no generally accepted definition.”

Local bartenders will join a lengthy list of licensed professions governed by the standard of moral turpitude in the state, including funeral directors, optometrists, massage therapists, bondsmen, acupuncturists, tax collectors, marriage counselors, athletic trainers, hearing aid dealers and dental hygienists, along with a few dozen others. One forthcoming challenge for those who fail to get a server license for violating moral turpitude standards will be what profession they can actually have.

While reducing underage drinking is the objective of the ordinance, Alderman Jeff Felser requested that data be presented to council after it has been in effect for a few months to ascertain whether the ordinance was having the desired effect.

Establishments have four months to comply with licensing and training measures.



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