Newport to Consider Ban on Little Bottles of Liquor

Little bottles of liquor, commonly referred to as airline bottles since the single-serving containers are often sold or taken on planes, may be banned in Newport.

City Manager Tom Fromme asked the city commission on Monday to consider an ordinance as an effort to combat loitering and panhandling. Fromme said that the little bottles have become the purchase of choice among the city's panhandlers.

"We know this because we pick them up enough," he said. "It's really a problem as far as I'm concerned and something we should regulate."

No ordinance has been fully drafted, though one is in the works, City Solicitor Daniel Braun. "I have concerns with regards to the legality," Braun said of the proposal. The attorney said he was unsure whether any ordinance of this nature would withstand a legal challenge and he expected that the liquor industry and the distributors would likely battle it.

On Monmouth Street, Downtown Newport's main street and the site of much recent revitalization, "It's been a chronic problem," Fromme said. "They sit down by the park all day long and frequent that liquor store and this is one of the products they buy."

Fromme said it was easy for pandhandlers to collect just enough money to buy one of the single-serving bottles at nearby liquor stores.

During Monday's meeting, Braun did a quick Google search and discovered that Joliet, Illinois passed a similar ban in 2012, though that city's ordinance also included all beer and liquor sold in single bottles, such as pints and half pints. According to articles written at the time about the Joliet ordinance, the motive was also to target panhandlers and homeless drinkers.

City Commissioner Frank Peluso asked whether the proposed regulation would punish the entire community. "Can we increase police presence with these issues?," Peluso asked.

Fromme said the city's police department already answers 50,000 calls a year and that litter and loitering have been targeted before. Of the proposed ordinance, Fromme said, "It's easy, it's convenient, it's cheap. It's another tool I've identified and like a store selling one cigarette, they're catering to a certain clientele that creates other issues for us."

"We enact these laws, we have to go and enforce them, too," Commissioner Peluso said. "I don't want to put laws on the books just to put them on the books."

"The enforcement is easier because you say, 'you can't sell those bottles in the stores'," Fromme said. "If we're not able to come up with some sort of mechanism, there's nothing we can do to target the panhandling and the loitering."

The city will continue to research the issue and may have an ordinance to present soon.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News