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Senate gives bars more latitude to “infuse” drinks

Rod Boshart, CR Gazette –

DES MOINES – Iowa bartenders and restaurateurs would be able to mix and store “infused” drinks for up to 72 hours under legislation that got the high sign from state senators on Tuesday.

Senators voted 48-2 to approve Senate File 2277 and send it to the House after adopting prohibitions against blending alcohol with hallucinogenics or stimulants, such as caffeinated or energy drinks and disallowing the “re-bottling” of infused drinks in original liquor containers.

Infused drinks are trendy concoctions that blend spirits such as vodka, gin and tequila with ingredients such as spices, herbs, fruits, vegetables or candy to create a unique flavor or exotic, specialized beverage. Under current law, bars and restaurants are not allowed to keep such “infused” liquors or mixed drinks for more than 24 hours.

“This is solving a problem,” said Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, who floor managed the bill designed to establish rules and guidelines supported by the Iowa Restaurant Association and other affected businesses while addressing concerns raised by state regulators. “It’s a good bill. It makes sense.”

However, Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, who also is a county deputy sheriff, said the bill was fraught with problems and underlying concerns.

“I think once we allow bartenders to start mixing drinks for two or three days and being able to keep that and put it behind the shelf, who knows what they’ll put in it?” Sodders said. “They could put narcotics in it, they could put other things in it and serve that to their patrons.

“There’s no regulation on this. No one goes in to check what goes into these bottles. What’s mixed in could be ephedrine, it could be pseudoephedrine, it could be a narcotic, it could be a date-rape drug – I think this is a problem for young people going into these bars and drinking this stuff,” added Sodders, who joined Sen. Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines, in opposing the measure.

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, said none of the concerns raised by Sodders during floor debate were voiced by law enforcement groups in the vetting process. He said state regulators were comfortable they could administer the proposed changes and there would be an opportunity to alter provisions in the House if the issues proved to be legitimate. Otherwise, he said, without legislative action, state regulators would face “a tremendous workload of both citations and fines because presently what’s generally accepted in these establishments will at that point be illegal and they will have to enforce it.”

In other action Tuesday, senators voted 47-1 to approve a change sought by the Iowa County Attorneys Association to create a criminal offense relating to the solicitation to commit murder. Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, registered the only no vote.

Under current law, the offense is included with other criminal solicitations that are classified as Class D felonies. Prosecutors said a situation where someone commands, entreats or otherwise attempts to persuade another person to commit murder should carry a tougher penalty than soliciting another person to steal property.

Senate File 2296 would establish the crime of solicitation to commit murder as a Class C felony punishable by confinement for no more than 10 years and a fine of at least $1,000 but not more than $10,000.

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