Rachel Brown Hackney’s Feb. 16 column on the controversy of the legal consumption of alcohol on Siesta Key Beach called on all of us who live here to let our opinions on this subject be heard by the Sarasota County Commission. I would like to second that call to action and add some additional thoughts that I hope explain some of the reasons why the public-safety side of the debate faces an uphill battle.
In the United States, controversies like this, which pertain to changing laws that govern certain types of behavior, always seem to coalesce around two primary issues: the desire to stop or change the behavior for the public good versus the importance of protecting personal freedoms and our free-enterprise economy (i.e., capitalism). In the initial debates, support for arguments favoring the protection of personal freedoms and free enterprise tend to hold sway over those for the betterment of the public good. That is because people who are at risk of losing rights and/or the ability to profit from a specific behavior tend to fight harder at the outset than those who want new protections or rights.
Think of the tobacco industry’s war on smoking bans over the years as an example.
With the debate about changing the alcoholic-beverage consumption laws on Siesta Key Beach, we are seeing the discussion dominated by the issues of the loss of personal freedom (ability of adults to drink alcohol) and the interference of free enterprise (the reduction in sales of alcoholic beverages) versus the issue of making the public safer from drunk drivers. Given the comments made by Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson during the Feb. 7 Siesta Key Village Association meeting, it would seem that the freedom arguments are winning so far, even with Donna Chen’s family leading the charge for the public-safety side of the battle.
I find the primary arguments put forth by Patterson and others to be absurd on one hand and misguided on the other.
They basically come down to what I call the often-used “futility” and “economic harm” justifications, which are the most widely used in these types of debates.
For example, according to Hackney, Patterson stated during the SKVA meeting that it would be impossible for deputies to enforce a prohibition on alcohol at the beach. However, that futility argument does not hold water. It says that because we could not enforce the prohibition law by checking every cooler at the beach, it would be ineffective to have such a law. Seriously? Then why do we have any laws?
Most of us are wise enough to know that, as with any other law, the very existence of a prohibition on alcoholic beverages at the beach would not mean that excessive drinking no longer would occur at the beach. Of course it would. The point is that the deputies would have the authority to arrest anyone they caught engaging in such behavior, and that power, in and of itself, would reduce the number of occurrences.
Now let’s consider what I think is the real reason for the hesitation by county commissioners to change the alcoholic-beverage consumption law: Cha-ching! You got it — the amount of revenue involved. The county makes money off the sales of beer and wine at the beach concession. It would be economically harmful to the county to change the law.
In the end, the Sarasota County Commission will decide for us, unless we let our voices be heard. Speak up!
John Gudritz is the co-owner of an investment management firm. He and his wife have been coming to the Key since the 1970s and have been seasonal residents since 2008.