Round and Round with the OLCC

As Bruce Fife testified at Oregon Liquor Control Commission headquarters in Milwaukie Monday, his arguments were direct and well-spoken. They should be. It was the second time the head of the local musician's union presented them.

Monday's hearing was a rerun of the events leading up to the OLCC's adoption of the minor entertainer rule last year. That rule amended minor-performer laws, prohibiting entertainers under 21 from performing in any capacity at an establishment with a full bar. Last month the commission announced it had failed to file paperwork with the Legislative Council, and that the rule, which was instituted in January, was not valid. The entire process would have to be repeated. In the meantime, a temporary order would keep the rule in place.

So Fife and young musicians, dancers and other performers across the state have another chance to contest the rule. Both Fife and the ACLU's Andrea Meyer have said that changing minds in the OLCC will be difficult. But things aren't exactly the same as they were last year. Two members of the five-person commission that first approved the rule will be new when the commission votes again in February. And, most importantly in Fife's eyes, the state and its underage performers have had almost a year to see how the new rule--and exemptions the OLCC said it would give certain performers--would apply.

"It's similar, but not the same," said Fife in a prepared statement before Commissioner Katie Hilton. "We've lived through the set of rules for the past year.... I was led to believe musicians would be granted exemption, but that has not happened."

Last year, when rules proponents contended the rule was meant to affect stripper-types and not musician-types, few musicians seemed to be aware of, much less in fear of the rule. In an interview with Hiss & Vinegar last month, Fife said he had hoped to rally a number of underage musicians to testify this time around. A few musicians and their parents did show up at the hearing, but the turnout was far from persuasive in numbers. Those who did show up, though, made their cases convincingly.

Meyer argued that the rule was unconstitutional and that the exemption criteria were "so vague as to be completely meaningless."

Berta Bodi and her 18-year-old son Dan, who plays in the band Shift, both testified. Berta stated that her "son is 18 and can go to war and be ordered to shoot and kill, but he can't pick up a guitar and perform where someone might be drinking a beer or taking a shot of whiskey."

Hilton, who is responsible for collecting all public input on the matter, followed up each parent's and performer's testimony by asking whether the musician's ability to perform had been hampered by the law. All answered in the affirmative.

The OLCC is accepting public comment on the rule until Dec. 8 at 5 pm. Send your comments to Katie Hilton, OLCC, P.O. Box 22297, Portland OR 97222,or fax her at 872-5110.