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After weeks of debate and controversy, Butte-Silver Bow commissioners on Wednesday approved a proposed ordinance to ban drinking in public from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m.

Commissioners voted 7-5 for the ordinance, which would subject those with open containers of alcohol in public in the wee hours of the morning to a fine up to $500.

A 6-6 tie was expected. But commissioner Sheryl Ralph unexpectedly voted for the ban. Also voting for the ban: Dennis Henderson, Dave Palmer, Bill Andersen, Sheryl Ralph, John Morgan, John Sorich and Bud Walker.

Commissioners voting against the ban were Jim Fisher, Dan Foley, Mike Moodry, Cindi Shaw and Brendan McDonough.

The ordinance would only cover Butte and its adjacent urban areas, not all of Silver Bow County.

Proponents on the council narrowed the geographic scope of the ordinance and made other tweaks such as removing the possibility of jail time for violations to keep the proposal alive over the past several weeks.

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The proposal was backed by some local business leaders and Sheriff Ed Lester as a way to curb excessive noise and unruly behavior associated with drinking on the streets of Uptown after bars close at 2 a.m.

Some opponents say the ban smacks at personal freedom and Butte’s free-spirited and drinking heritage, and some contend there are enough laws already to address rowdy, unruly behavior such as urinating and vomiting in the streets.

The answer to the problem, those opponents have said, is enforcing those laws where the problems are occurring Uptown.

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