Tangipahoa Parish Council nixes underage drinking ordinance

The Tangipahoa Parish Council dismissed the introduction of an ordinance that would prohibit patrons younger than 21 from barrooms in the parish's unincorporated areas despite the large crowd showing support during Monday night's council meeting.

The vote was 5-4-1 to introduce the ordinance proposed by District 1 Councilman Tom Tolar.

Supporting introduction of the ordinance were council members Ronnie Bankston, Bobby Cortez, Debbie Edwards, Tom Tolar and Lionell Wells. Opposing the ordinance were councilmen Carlo Bruno, Carlos Notariano, Tennis Rick and Buddy Ridgel. Abstaining was Councilman Michael Petitto.

Six votes were necessary to send the proposed ordinance, seen as the first step in addressing Tangipahoa Parish's underage drinking problem, to the next level.

State officials have identified Tangipahoa Parish as one of the top ten parishes with above average underage and youth drinking problems and one to share in more than $11 million of grant money to address the problem. The legal drinking age in Louisiana is 21, but those 18 to 21 can enter barrooms and can also drink with a parent, spouse or legal guardian who is 21 or older.

There was standing room only to support the ban, including Kentwood High School SADD members who requested the ban on February 9.

David Pevey, Howard Edwards and Tom Zachary addressed the council, asking to introduce the ordinance as a means of allowing the public to discuss it through the public hearing stage and council vote in two weeks. "I'm challenging you," Pevey said. "We can make a difference. Give us time to discuss it over the next few weeks," he added. Pevey also said Tangipahoa Parish is in a position to lead the state in banning the underage from bars and that state officials are looking to the parish for leadership.

Edwards pointed out that the Town of Kentwood has already banned the underage from bars and that it has greatly reduced the number of police calls.

Irma Gordon, sponsor of the SADD group, was shocked after the vote. "Are they serious," she said. "I was really just shocked after the vote was taken and I just couldn't believe it," Gordon added.

No one opposing the proposed ordinance addressed the council.

Councilman Carlos Notariano led in explaining the votes against the ban stating that opposition to the ordinance was based on concern that it would only cause the underage to travel to neighboring parishes. Notariano instead proposed a resolution to ask state lawmakers to address the issue on a statewide basis.

However, the debate over banning the underage is far from over in Tangipahoa Parish. Outside the meeting hall, local residents said they'll fight the council's decision. "The issue is far from over," Ponchatoula businessman David Pevey said. "This isn't something we thought would happen at the snap of a finger. We have a long road ahead," he added.

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