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Seminole spares under-21 bargoers

It's business as usual for Boomerz and Page II, at least for now.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published October 14, 2007


SEMINOLE- Page II and Boomerz won a reprieve when a 4-3 Seminole City Council vote shot down a proposal to ban underage patrons from entering certain bars.

Council members want to discuss the issue again, but until an ordinance is passed, it's business as usual for Boomerz and Page II, the only two existing bars that would have been affected by the ban on anyone younger than 21 inside a freestanding bar with a capacity of 100 or more. Exceptions were made for soldiers, employees, paramedics, firefighters and some others.

The dispute among council members centered on a grandfather clause that would have allowed Boomerz and Page II to continue operations as usual unless there was a violation. At that point, a special master could have decided to force the offending bar to comply with the ban.

Supporters of the clause, like council member Dan Hester, said they thought it was unfair to target two existing businesses and change things without giving those bars a chance to "play by the rules." Eliminating the grandfather clause, Hester argued, would "put them out of business before they step on the banana peel."

"This is a very fair ordinance," Hester said. "It's unfair to take the business and pull the rug out from under it."

Bob Matthews, who had voted in favor of the ordinance at an earlier hearing, said he changed his mind after hearing reports that a 15-year-old had been served alcohol at Page II just the week before.

This happened, Matthews said, when the bar's owners knew the council was scrutinizing the situation. Even worse, he said, the owner had not shown up at Tuesday's hearing to explain the situation.

Council members were not the only ones split over the issue. So were area youths.

Jessica Rasdall, 20, is facing jail for a charge of DUI-manslaughter in a wreck that killed her best friend.

Rasdall, a student at the University of South Florida, and Laura Ann Gorman, a freshman at Eckerd College, had been drinking at Club Skye in Ybor City last year. Gorman, 18, died after the Honda Civic that Rasdall was driving veered off Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg, flipped and hit a tree.

"I will live with this guilt the rest of my life and I don't want anyone else to," Rasdall said in supporting passage of the ordinance.

But seniors from Jody Zellner's American government class at Seminole High School disagreed. Several quoted the Constitution while opposing the rule's passage.

"It's exercising a double standard," Lauran Vicari said. "I don't think it's being constitutional."

Other students said the bars, especially Boomerz, are actually music venues. Keeping kids out of the bars, they said, would not prevent underage drinking but would deprive them of access to concerts.

"I think it's ridiculous. I should be able to go into a building," Ashley Braver said. "You guys should at least give us the chance not to drink."

Seminole officials proposed the ordinance after Pinellas County sheriff's deputies were called several times to both bars to quell threatened violence.

The city's proposal to bar underage patrons comes at a time when the National Youth Rights Association is collecting signatures on petitions to have the drinking age lowered to 18 in Florida and several other states.

The organization's argument is summed up on its Web site, "When you are 18, you are judged mature enough to vote, hold public office, serve on juries, serve in the military, fly airplanes, sign contracts and so on. Why is drinking a beer an act of greater responsibility and maturity than flying an airplane or serving your country at war?"

It's an argument several of the Seminole High students, like Joshua White, used.

"This is their stress reliever from the war," Joshua said, referring to soldiers who are younger than 21.

[Last modified October 13, 2007, 22:51:06]

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