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Sponsor suggests changes to North Dakota minors-in-bars bill

BISMARCK - The Rugby legislator behind a bill to allow minors to eat in North Dakota bars suggested changes on Monday to address opponents' concerns.

BISMARCK - The Rugby legislator behind a bill to allow minors to eat in North Dakota bars suggested changes on Monday to address opponents' concerns.

House Bill 1307 would permit minors to eat in bars if the bar serves tabletop food prepared in a kitchen with at least an indoor grill and if the bar is smoke-free.

Supporters say bars are the only places to eat in some small North Dakota towns.

Opponents have called the proposal "a nightmare" for law enforcement, parents and bar owners.

The House barely passed the bill, which is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Bill sponsor Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby, proposed an addition to the bill that would require minors to be accompanied by someone 21 or older in order to eat in a bar.

Some have proposed more specific wording that refers to parents or guardians, he said, though this would restrict others, like grandparents.

Nelson also proposed limiting the bill to communities with populations of 5,000 or fewer people to keep to the bill's intent of addressing rural communities.

He also proposed putting a time restriction in the bill, such as only allowing minors in the bar when the kitchen is open and no later than 10 p.m.

Sen. Stan Lyson, R-Williston, said he is concerned about allowing minors in bars in towns where there are other places for them to eat. Nelson said parents could still prevent their children from eating in bars.

Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, asked how the bill will affect the state's long campaign against underage drinking.

"I don't think it's going to impact it from a positive or a negative standpoint," Nelson said. "This bill does not promote drinking. It just promotes the ability for an underage person to be able to eat in a setting that they can't today in some communities."

Jane Vangsness Frisch of the North Dakota Higher Education Consortium for Substance Abuse Prevention opposed the original bill. She said she would agree if more restrictions are added through the proposed amendments.

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Pamela Sagness, prevention administrator of the Department of Human Services' Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, also opposed the bill.

The department is "greatly concerned" about the impact of a bar atmosphere on youth and the related message it sends, she said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.

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