UPDATED: Senate kills bill allowing minors to eat in bars

BISMARCK—North Dakota should not have a law allowing minors to eat in bars, the North Dakota Senate decided Wednesday.

The Senate voted 30-17 to defeat a bill that would have allowed this if the bar serves tabletop food prepared in a kitchen with at least an indoor grill. The bar also needed to be smoke-free.

Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, said the bill allowed anyone under 21 to enter a bar and stay there indefinitely as long as they eat a meal. She opposed the idea due to the issues it would cause for law enforcement and what the exposure would mean for minors.

“Familiarity with high-risk activities is often a precursor to young people’s actual risk-taking behaviors,” she said.

The state spends money every year trying to reduce the number of underage drinkers, she said.

Sen. Joe Miller, R-Park River, also opposed the bill. However, he pointed out that youth are exposed to the same situation when they go to family restaurants with bars in the state’s larger cities.

Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, supported the bill, saying the local bar is the only place left for people to gather in some small communities. House supporters have also said bars are the only places to eat in some rural North Dakota towns.

Sen. Randy Christmann, R-Hazen, said kids see drinking on TV and online and said it would be “a whole lot less destructive or damaging” to see it in a bar.

Sen. Curtis Olafson, R-Edinburg, said the bill had merit for rural towns, but he opposed the bill without a requirement that minors be accompanied by parents or guardians.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby, tried to make the bill more favorable by suggesting this amendment. He also proposed limiting the bill to communities with populations of 5,000 or fewer to keep to the bill’s intent to address rural communities. He also suggested adding time restrictions.

However, Sen. Dave Nething, R-Jamestown, said the suggestions weren’t included because the Legislature needs to create policy for the entire state.

It’s difficult to come up with legislation that fits every situation, and choosing a population limit creates problems with what population to choose, he said.

“The point is that do you want to have these minors in bars? Is that good? Is that good public policy for the state of North Dakota?” Nething said. “Is it good public policy to have children exposed, minors exposed to what goes on in a bar? We don’t think it is.”

Suicide funding

In other action, the Senate unanimously agreed to restore the suicide prevention funding reduced by the House in the Indian Affairs Commission budget.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple recommended $100,000 for a suicide prevention program, including outreach, education, administration and implementation of grants for the next two years.

The House cut the funding to $50,000. The chambers now need to work to determine the final amount.

Oil and gas

The Senate also approved a bill aimed at improving relations between the oil industry and landowners.

House Bills 1241 relates to notice of oil and gas drilling operations and compensation for loss of agricultural production and income caused by oil and gas production. The House unanimously passed the bill last month.

The Senate approved an amended version of the bill earlier this week but decided Wednesday to return it to the version approved by the House.

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Vote breakdown for minors in bars bill:

Yeas: 17
Andrist, Berry, Christmann, Dotzenrod, Erbele, Fischer, Holmberg, Klein, Murphy, Nodland, O’Connell, Schneider, Stenehjem, Taylor, Triplett, Wanzek, Warner

Nays: 30

Bowman, Burckhard, Cook, Dever, Flakoll, Freborg, G. Lee, Grindberg, Heckaman, Hogue, J. Lee, Kilzer, Krebsbach, Laffen, Larsen, Luick, Lyson, Marcellais, Mathern, Miller, Nelson, Nething, Oehlke, Olafson, Robinson, Schaible, Sitte, Sorvaag, Uglem, Wardner

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