State lawmakers are moving to crack down on bars and taverns that fail to report criminal activity on or near their property. Legislation pending at the statehouse establishes new fines for bar owners who fail to notify authorities if they’re aware of things like drug dealing, prostitution, or assaults in the bar’s parking lot or an adjacent lot.

Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, says the chiefs of police in Iowa are asking for this change because some bar owners push problems out their door and look the other way. “Give them a tool to enforce this,” McCoy says. “Bring some justice to bear on the bar owner who has an obligation to ensure they’re running a clean good safe establishment that doesn’t interfere with our neighborhoods or create additional costs and problems for our police and law enforcement.”

Bar owners who twice fail to report criminal activity face a $500 fine and could eventually lose their liquor license for repeated violations. Opponents of the bill argue it could make bar owners more vulnerable to lawsuits. Senator Keith Kreiman, a Democrat from Bloomfield who is a lawyer, says the wording of the bill is too broad.

“The bill doesn’t say major offenses,” Kreiman says. “The bill says criminal activity. So are we going to flood the 911 dispatches with (reports of) people smoking next door?” The bill has been approved by both the House and Senate in slightly different forms and awaits further debate in the House.