Spring break will be a little different now that the Panama City Beach City Council has passed new laws to tackle the wild behavior the week is notorious for. While some have laid the blame for the new rules on Fox News’ Sean Hannity, who did a series of segments highlighting the excessive behavior on the Florida beach over spring break, there is little doubt that things can get out of control. The changes impact bars’ opening hours and make it harder to drink on the beach while underage.
The Ordinances: Two Passed, One Rejected
There were three ordinances proposed in total, but only two of them passed. One of the ordinances that won approval limits bar hours, mandating a closing time of no later than 2 a.m. In the past, bars were still serving spring break partiers at 4 a.m.
The second ordinance to pass addresses underage drinking on the beach, requiring partygoers to carry a valid ID. According to Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman. The final ordinance didn’t pass but would have placed limits on special events and would also notably have required club owners holding such events to erect six-foot fences around their properties. This was opposed by business owners for fairly obvious reasons—it places potentially excessive requirements on them and some feared it would make the events less appealing to broadcasters.
Criticism of the Move: An Overreaction to Negative Press?
Many bar owners weren’t happy with the new rules, in particular Sparky Sparkman—owner of one of the beach’s largest clubs, Spinnaker—who spoke up many times during the meeting discussing the ordinances.
He argued, “This would have not been an issue had it not been for Hannity and his, you know, I call it an assault on the beach. College spring break was basically over when he did that, and he had a mission. He was on a ratings-seeking mission and he took advantage of us and blindsided us.”
The reports showed plenty of excessive behavior, including girls exposing their breasts for beads, students admitting—on camera—to using drugs, people having sex in public on the beach and plenty of binge drinking. However, despite criticism, the report simply showed what happens during spring break, and while you may say it unfairly singled out Panama City Beach, the reality of what was filmed and observed there is undeniable.
However, Sparkman did have a point (aside from being worried about the effect it will have on his income) about the 2 a.m. closing rule: “The college spring-breakers, they’re not ready to lay it down at 2 a.m. You’re going to put more people out in the street and that’s not going to be good, I don’t think.”
Spring Break Excesses: Binge Drinking and Deaths
It’s clear that something has to be done: In 2014 at Panama City Beach, there were two confirmed deaths (one of a chaperone who fell from a balcony and one manslaughter due to intoxicated driving), and one student disappeared while staying at a beach house with a large group of friends. A study conducted by the American College of Health found that young men report drinking 18 alcoholic beverages a day and young women report drinking 10 per day during spring break—which is well over the recommended safe levels of alcohol consumption and clearly explains the excessive behavior observed by Hannity’s reporter.
The new laws might not be perfect, but it’s clear that spring break binge drinking can have disastrous consequences. There are a couple of valid criticisms, in particular what will happen when bars kick throngs of intoxicated college students out onto the streets at 2 a.m. But since beach drinkers will be asked for ID, the new rules should at least reduce the number of underage drinkers while encouraging people to head to bed at a more reasonable hour. There will still be binge drinking, undoubtedly, but hopefully in March we won’t see a repeat of the deaths that occurred at Panama City Beach last spring break.13