JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri House Monday gave a chilly reception to efforts spearheaded by several black representatives to restrict what they say is a deadly enemy for the state's inner city areas - the alcohol industry.
"Alcohol is the number one drug problem for inner cities, not crack and not heroin," said Rep. Mary Bland, D-Kansas City. "Just because it's legal, doesn't mean it's in the best interest of the people."
When a relatively minor bill setting into law various state and federal regulations for alcohol wholesalers came up on the floor, some legislators saw a chance to use the bill as a vehicle for a slew of restrictions on alcohol advertising and sales.
Rep. Quincy Troupe, D-St. Louis, began the debate by offering an amendment that prohibited alcohol advertising in "high crime areas." He said it was an effort to help shield some black areas that are exploited by alcohol companies.
"When liquor companies, tobacco companies and designer drug dealers all target black communities, it's a real problem," Troupe said. "This impedes our ability to re-develop these communities."
Troupe said liquor companies have little concern for the people in these areas.
"They're primary purpose is to make a profit," Troupe said. "But they are also enslaving a people by compounding their problems with alcohol."
A similar amendment later sponsored by Rep. Bill Boucher, D-Kansas City, would have made it illegal for "any retailer to sell 40 ounce bottles of malt liquor in minority areas."
Amendment supporters said these products are especially designed for poor black areas, in which they are almost exclusively sold.
All of these amendments met with stiff resistance from House Republicans. They also failed to garner much support from Democrats and were shot down on voice votes.
Many of those opposing the measures said they lacked specifics and were unconstitutional.
"The amendment was so poorly written as to be unconstitutional," said Rep. Don Lograsso, R-Blue Springs. "It didn't define what kind of advertising or the areas in which it would be prohibited."
Lograsso also said he disagreed with only dealing with black communities.
"Alcohol is devastating in areas throughout the state," he said. "If this is going to be effective anywhere, it should be effective throughout the state. It certainly shouldn't be effective only in minority areas; that's racist."
Alcohol industry representatives said the proposed amendments were discriminatory and should be dealt with on a local level.
"You can't tell a distributer they can't deliver to a certain store or area," said Earl Schlef, member of an organization for alcohol wholesalers.
Another amendment to the bill that didn't necessarily involve race was also shot down. Bland offered an amendment to require bars to post a sign stating "Warning: Drinking alcoholic beverages during pregnancy may cause birth defects."
The amendment, had the support of the alcohol industry and was based on information put forth by the March of Dimes. But once again Republicans were able to shout down the amendment.
"It's clear to me people who pride themselves on being pro-life are certainly speaking with two tongues," Bland said. "Those who are so concerned about having babies born should also be concerned about them being born healthy."
Rep. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said he didn't want to start posting such warnings, because they can get out of hand.
"Just like at state's where this has been taken to the extreme, like California," he said. "I'm sure it started with something like this."
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