Wednesday, February 21, 2018
JACKSON Mississippi's liquor rules are enough to make your head spin before you take a single sip of alcohol—if it's available for purchase where you live. In terms of wet and dry jurisdictions, Hinds County, among others like Jasper and Jones County, is split directly down the middle—half the county is wet, the other half is dry. Jackson is in the wet half of the county, and the airport is a "wet area" despite the fact that it is geographically in dry Rankin County.
In a test case of sorts, Jackson is currently seeking to authorize a finite area called a leisure and recreation district, where you could drink freely with to-go cups like you would on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, as Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks described it.
If Ward 7 Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay's proposed ordinances pass, The District at Eastover would become a "to-go cup" area wherein patrons could take alcoholic beverages, one per person, out of the restaurants in plastic cups with restaurant insignia and consume them on the green spaces or the patios at their leisure during the time the restaurants are open.
"I think because this is a new idea ... we are in a sense creating a blueprint that can be used in other areas of the city as well. I think it's good to pause and have a discussion on this...," Lindsay said at the outset of the Legislative Committee meeting on Feb. 15 in City Hall.
While the encompassing leisure and recreation district is relatively small and contained compared to the rest of the City, the process for designating one is complicated. The power to create leisure districts throughout the state rests with the Mississippi Legislature.
During the 2016 legislative session, certain municipalities were given the authority to establish these districts; in Jackson, most of Fondren was demarcated as a potential leisure district, though it has not yet gotten city council approval needed for it to go into effect.
In 2017, the District at Eastover was written into state law as a second district. Once the Legislature recognizes a leisure district, the city council has to approve it.
"I have to wait a whole year (between legislative sessions) when I've got an idea that I can make some money in two months?" Ward 5 Councilman Charles Tillman said at the Feb. 15 legislative committee meeting.
Lindsay created two ordinances as a blueprint for other potential districts wanting to approach the Legislature or the City for permission to become a leisure district. The first ordinance establishes the district in Jackson. The second amends Jackson's alcoholic-beverages ordinance that currently outlaws open containers in public unless at a City-sponsored event or a special event like St. Patrick's Day or Jacktoberfest.
The councilwoman included language that would allow open containers in leisure districts. Her hopes are that the City's Department of Planning and Development will draft a map of other potential leisure districts so that Jackson only has to lobby legislators once to get them written into state law, then the City can approve them.
Even when written into City ordinances, Dana Sims of the city attorney's office says police will not actively patrol to enforce these alcohol laws—they would only come if there was a disturbance.
Banks asked how far law enforcement would have to go to police the ordinance. He gave an example of a resident of the apartments in The District at Eastover bringing out their liquor of choice in a backpack and consuming it outside.
"It's going to happen," Banks said at the legislative committee meeting on Feb. 15. "Is it just going to be OK because as long as they've got a cup and 'heaven gives refills'?" he said, making a joke about people pouring their own liquor into approved to-go cups.
Like all things dealing with law enforcement, Sims said, it is at the discretion of the officers to enforce the laws.
Lindsay argues that because The District at Eastover is such a contained location, it is the perfect place to test such a process to see if it would even be feasible in the rest of the capital city.
Email city reporter Bragg at [email protected].