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ALJ: Revoke, Suspend Liquor Licenses for Violations of Smokefree Air Act

Administrative Law Judge proposes liquor license revocation for VFW Post No. 775, and license suspension for “Smokin Jo’s” bar, both in Ottumwa.

Des Moines. The liquor license for VFW Post No. 775 in Ottumwa should be revoked for “an ongoing pattern and practice of noncompliance” with Iowa’s Smokefree Air Act, an administrative law judge ordered Tuesday.

ALJ Margaret LaMarche’s decision on VFW Post No. 775 said: “The number and circumstances of the complaints and violations establish” that the club “intentionally conducted business” in violation of the Smokefree Air Act. LaMarche said the club was still operating in violation of the Act as recently as March 13. [Go to VFW Post 775 Proposed Decision.]

In a separate decision, LaMarche said the liquor license of “Smokin Jo’s” bar in Ottumwa should be suspended for 30 days. Smokin Jo’s now appears to be complying with the law, she said, but she proposed the 30-day liquor license suspension because of the bar’s “pattern and practice of noncompliance” with the Smokefree law from at least August to November 2008. [Go to Smokin Jo’s Proposed Decision.]

LaMarche’s “proposed decisions” will become final unless appealed to Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division Administrator Lynn Walding within 30 days.

Another Ottumwa bar, “The Keg,” recently agreed to serve a seven-day suspension of its liquor license and pay a civil penalty of $1,000. The suspension is scheduled to begin May 13.

Two other cases were resolved April 8, when Walding revoked the liquor license of Otis Campbell’s bar in West Burlington, and suspended the license for 30 days of Fro’s bar in Wilton.

Attorney General Tom Miller said: “Liquor license holders are obligated to obey all Iowa laws as a condition of their privilege to hold a license. We are determined to enforce this new law -- because it is the law, and because it saves lives. The huge majority of Iowa businesses are obeying the law, and we will not allow a small, vocal minority to flout the law,” he said.

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Smokefree Air Act:

“There is no doubt in my mind that the Iowa Smokefree Air Act is working, and it is saving Iowans’ lives,” Miller said. “The adult smoking rate in the state has dropped from 19% to 14% over the last two years -- in part because the Iowa Smokefree Air Act has encouraged people to quit. Lives of smokers and non-smokers alike are being saved. Iowans are healthier because of this law.”

Miller praised Iowa businesses for overwhelmingly complying with the new law. He said that of over 82,000 businesses in the state, the State Department of Public Health has received complaints against only 917 -- about 1%. And Miller noted that some of those complaints had to do with technical issues associated with the startup of the new law, such as placement of signs.

Smokefree Air Act actions against liquor licenses:

“Actions against liquor licenses are one of our most effective enforcement tools,” Miller said. “The principle is simple: Holders of liquor licenses are obligated to follow Iowa law, all Iowa law. If they break the law, their licenses may be suspended or revoked.”

The Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of the Department of Public Safety, has filed 41 administrative hearing complaints with the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division (ABD) since the law took effect, seeking to suspend or revoke the liquor licenses of businesses for violating the Smokefree Air Act.

“My office will continue to use all the enforcement tools available to us, including both civil penalties and actions against liquor licenses,” Miller said. “In addition to the liquor license cases, we have sought civil penalties for 11 violations of the law,” he said.

“We will continue working with local law enforcement officials around the state to give them the tools to make this law a success,” Miller said. “The law is working, and we will continue to play our part in enforcement in order to ensure Iowa’s laws are obeyed, and to protect the health of every Iowan.”

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