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Mayor Paul Soglin wants to repeal a year-old city law that bans the retail sale of booze to chronic alcoholics who make trouble and use an inordinate amount of police, health and social service resources.

But police and social service providers want to keep the law, only now on the verge of being enforced for the first time.

Soglin said he first wants to explore all options to help a small group of habitually intoxicated people get access to treatment.

The mayor proposed the repeal to the City Council Tuesday. It will be decided at a later date.

The repeal would relieve police from keeping a no-serve list with photographs of chronic alcoholics and eliminate fines for retailers.

The law, approved with broad support on the council in July 2010, has yet to be fully implemented, in part because of a since-filled vacancy in the city's alcohol policy coordinator position. The police now have a list of a dozen names but haven't made it public. 

"I'm not sure a scarlet letter approach is the best way to deal with this problem," Soglin said. "It eventually may be the solution, but given my value system in regard to how to treat people, I'd like to look at other alternatives first."

Central District Police Capt. Carl Gloede said the department views the law as one tool in the fight to control chronic drinking and prefers to keep it.

Steve Schooler, executive director of Porchlight, Inc., which provides emergency homeless shelter and other social services, called Soglin's proposal "not helpful." 

The law can be an incentive to alcoholics who may be ready for treatment but find it easier to keep getting liquor, Schooler said. The list can motivate alcoholics to adjust their behavior, he said.

"We haven't even given it a chance to work yet," he said.

Retailers backed the law when it passed but now supports repealing it, said attorney William White, who represents the industry. White said allowing the industry to regulate itself is more effective. 

Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, who represents the core Downtown, said he's "not excited" about abolishing the law without more input from retailers, police and social service agencies.

"The repeal of this is somewhat rushed," Verveer said, adding that he's open to exploring other ways to use the list, like sharing it with health care providers.

The law was aimed at perhaps three dozen of the biggest troublemakers who aggressively panhandle, intimidate, fight and cause other problems costing millions each year in police, jail, mental health, detoxification, hospital and other costs, city officials said at the time. 

The law doesn't prevent anyone from drinking in taverns or restaurants. 

To get on the list, a person must be either arrested and convicted of a crime while drunk or taken to treatment at least six times in the previous 180 days. 

About 30 people now meet the criteria, but to make enforcement practical, police intended to make public a dozen names, Gloede said. The law allows appeals.

A person on the list trying to buy alcohol faces no penalty. A licensee selling alcohol to someone on the list first gets a warning and then a fine up to $200.

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