Local Views: Keep sales of alcohol separate in Janesville

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Sarah C. Johnson
Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A recent proposal would eliminate a long-standing and effective Janesville ordinance that  requires alcohol sales to be separated from other retail sales. This ordinance was created in the interests of limiting underage access to alcoholic beverages at retail establishments and has been on the books for longer than the city has records. This progressive thinking by Janesville’s previous leadership has proven beneficial in many ways.

Janesville students report accessing alcohol at retail locations at a lower rate than students in all other Rock County communities that do not separate alcohol sales (2012 Youth Risk Behavior Survey). In addition, the separation of alcohol sales has dramatically reduced the amount of alcohol advertising that our children are exposed to; it has been well established that underage drinking rises as kids are exposed to higher amounts of alcohol advertising.

Most important is the fact that Janesville’s high school students drink at a lower rate (27 percent) than students at other Rock County high schools (35 percent). Separating alcohol sales and reducing the powerful influence of alcohol advertising are helping to provide a safer and healthier community for our children.

Excessive alcohol use already costs this community a significant amount of time, money and resources. The Burden of Excessive Alcohol Use in Wisconsin report, published by the UW Population Health Institute in 2013, shows that excessive alcohol use is costing Rock County $198.1 million a year in health care costs, lost productivity and other negative consequences. The 2012 Janesville Police Department Annual Report showed that our officers issued 738 alcohol-related traffic citations and made 341 operating-while-intoxicated arrests. Expanding access to alcohol would contribute to higher costs for Janesville.

The rationale for the proposal to eliminate this ordinance is that it “hinders economic development.” With this ordinance having existed for longer than the city has records, with all available alcohol licenses in use, and with none of the licenses being surrendered due to hardship from this ordinance, where exactly is this “hindering” business?

The economic development prospects of Janesville do not hinge on expanding alcohol sales next to the milk and soda, next to the fruit and vegetables, in the checkout lines, and at the end of the candy aisle (all real examples from neighboring communities).

Eliminating this ordinance jeopardizes the safety and health of our children and goes against all science-based research and studies. Eliminating this ordinance is counterproductive to the goal of making Janesville a community of choice for new development.

Sarah C. Johnson is project coordinator for Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change, One Parker Place, Suite 360, Janesville, WI 53545; phone 608-741-2105; email janesvillemobilizing4change@gmail.com.

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