At some point, the Metro Council is going to have to realize it cannot legislate good behavior. Yet, that kind of nanny state instinct has been a theme in recent years on the Council, particularly when it comes to the behavior of residents within Nashville’s urban core.
Poorly thought out attempts have been made to legislate against actions that are already crimes, specifically acts typically committed by Nashville’s either homeless or chemically addicted. First there was an “aggressive panhandling” ordinance, something where existing criminal laws for assault and disorderly conduct should already apply.
Now, Council member Erica Gilmore wants to ban single beer sales in the city’s downtown area, a law that exists in various forms in some of America’s largest cities like Washington, D.C. and Detroit.
The idea here is easy to understand. Gilmore says single beer sales lead to litter downtown. In other places, banning single beer sales has been attributed to fighting public drunkenness and public consumption. The most basic problem with this proposal is that it is a legislative redundancy. All of those things, short of buying alcohol itself, are already acts the Metro Police Department can and should be addressing. We support and encourage police action against all manner of street crimes, including those related to alcohol. These Council members need to address the related problems in their districts through providing better constituency service — a harder task arguably than legislating — and draw the police’s attention to crimes, even something as simple as littering. That is between the Council members and the police department.
In a broader sense, the problem with legislation is that Council seems willing to turn a blind eye to similar behavior when it happens above the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder.
For example, Council members over the years have not been standing on their heads to pass new laws to address the issue of open container, public consumption and litter proliferation at downtown events tied to music or professional sporting events.
Gilmore herself has already found exceptions to her own proposed law — where microbreweries and craft beers are concerned. Of course, these higher-dollar single sales are not usually the target purchases of blue-collar workers after a shift, neighborhood drunks or the homeless.
We make no case here for anyone to be able to drink in public or litter. It is simply that the state of Tennessee already has laws against the very behavior Metro Council seeks to ban. Putting further regulation and burden on small business owners selling single cans of beer is overkill and, quite frankly, smacks of grandstanding for constituents. It also contributes to the mindset that Council can actually fix such problems with the sweep of a pen and a vote. They cannot, and this kind of legislation distracts legislators from more pressing problems in the city such as the tenuous budget, economic development, the future of the city’s hospital and in some places a crumbling public infrastructure.
On a more basic note, a person of legal drinking age should be able to walk into a store in this state and buy a beer in whatever form they choose — a single can or a whole case — just like they would any other item. Treating everyone downtown like they are litterbugs is no solution.