City mulls social host lawPublished 9:17am Thursday, September 25, 2008
In an attempt to further discourage underage possession and consumption of alcohol, the Albert Lea Police Department has constructed an ordinance that would penalize any host of a gathering with underage drinkers in attendance.
The ordinance was compiled as the result of a request made by 3rd Ward Councilor George Marin last spring.
It will come before the Albert Lea City Council in an upcoming meeting.
Albert Lea Police Lt. Phil Bartusek said the history of discouraging underage possession and consumption of alcohol in the area goes back to 1995 or 1996 when the city started conducting two compliance checks a year with area businesses.
The department instilled a best-practices program, which encourages liquor license holders to voluntarily undertake practices that will help avoid sales to underage buyers, he said.
A licensed establishment that participates in the program is subject to a modified schedule of presumptive penalties.
The department also started the Zero Alcohol Provider program in 2005 in an effort to reduce underage consumption and identify adult providers, Bartusek said.
If the introduced ordinance — which is being called the social host ordinance — passes it will be unlawful to host or allow an event at a residence, or on private or public property, where alcohol or alcoholic beverages are present when that person knows that an underage person will consume any alcohol or possess alcohol with the intent to consume, according to a PowerPoint presentation Bartusek and Lt. J.D. Carlson gave at a city preagenda meeting last week.
A person who hosts the event does not have to be present to be responsible, Bartusek said. If a man knows there’s an underage party going on at his residence but is not there when it is taking place, that man would still be responsible, Bartusek explained.
The penalty for the offense would be a misdemeanor.
One exception would be if an underage person is drinking solely with his parents in their household. It is not against the law for an underage person to drink alcohol with his parents, he said.
Other exceptions are for legally protected religious observances, employment purposes and for retail intoxicating liquor or 3.2 percent malt liquor licenses.
Having a social host ordinance would hold people accountable who provide the place for the underage people to drink in, Bartusek said. This is helpful because in many instances underage drinkers do not want to give up their provider.
He said the police department put together the ordinance based on similar ordinances throughout the state. Former City Attorney Steve Schwab reviewed the ordinance, and it is supported by the police department.
Other areas with a social host ordinance include Chaska, Duluth, Fairfax, Lakeville, Mankato, Otsego, Princeton, Red Wing, Roseville, South St. Paul, Waseca and Kandiyohi County.
At the preagenda meeting last week, Albert Lea City Manager Victoria Simonsen asked if there has been any talk about whether the ordinance would be supported throughout Freeborn County.
Bartusek said the intent is to introduce it to the county in hopes that if the city takes the lead on it, the county would follow.
Simonsen asked how many people would have been charged with this in the last year if the ordinance had been in place.
Bartusek said he would estimate at around 40 people. The police department charged 12 or 13 people for actually providing alcohol last year. That charge is much harder to prove, he said.
The request for the ordinance originated during a community policing meeting in the springtime.