Our View: Social host ordinance has merit


Editorial Board, May 2008 to August 2008

  • Bryna Larsen, publisher
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Mike Lawrence, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Eric Morris, community representative
  • Paul Draper, community representative

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

The Steamboat Springs City Council should strongly consider adopting a social host ordinance that would punish adults who knowingly provide a place for minors to consume alcohol.

A draft of a proposed social host ordinance was presented to the City Council on Tuesday. According to the draft ordinance, adults - or "social hosts" - who knowingly allow a party on their property in which underage drinking takes place can be cited by police and forced to appear in municipal court.

The social host ordinance differs from other laws, such as contributing to the delinquency of a minor, because it focuses on the adults who provide a space for the underage drinking to occur, as opposed to those who provide the alcohol that is consumed. That difference is precisely the point of enacting a social host ordinance, advocates say. Law enforcement agencies often have a difficult time determining who supplied the alcohol to minors, but it's usually not tough to determine who owns or leases the property where the drinking occurred.

Some parents argue that by allowing underage drinking in their homes, they are teaching teens to drink responsibly and preventing them from drinking and driving.

The bottom line is that providing alcohol to minors is against the law, and allowing that consumption encourages illegal and dangerous behavior. Besides, since when does another parent have the right to decide if and when your child can drink? Those adults usually aren't around to deal with the tragedies that could ensue - from drunken driving to alcoholism to developmental disabilities.

There's reason to enact a social host ordinance in Steamboat, a city where alcohol-related arrests easily exceed the national average. Survey after survey shows that our teens frequently binge drink and take part in other dangerous activities that result from alcohol consumption.

It would be naÃive to think a social host ordinance would curb all underage drinking, but an ordinance would send a clear message to adults who allow such behavior to take place on their watch and in their homes. To be clear, parents whose homes are used for a party without their knowledge or consent would not be subject to the social host ordinance.

Although we support the language of the social host ordinance, we have some reservations about its penalty phase. As drafted, adults cited for violating the ordinance would appear in municipal court and could have their citation decided by the municipal judge or a jury of their peers. If convicted, the draft ordinance stipulates the following penalties: a $500 fine and two days in jail for a first offense; a $750 fine and 15 days in jail for a second offense; and a $999 fine and 30 days in jail for a third offense. All offenses carry a requirement to perform 24 hours of community service.

We think the mandatory jail terms are too harsh and that the municipal judge should be given discretion in deciding the punishments on a case-by-case basis. With those changes in place, the social host ordinance could become a valuable tool for law enforcement officers to continue their worthy efforts to reduce underage drinking.


bigfatdog 8 years, 8 months ago

Does this ordinance really have merit?? Or is it another infringement on civil liberties. Will it assist in curbing underage drinking or is another way for government to enter our homes. In this day and age, most "hosts" understand the liability and consequences by providing to an underage person. Don't give government a tool that could be easily manipulated. What if we put this same energy into further education and exposure on the subject. We should not need the government in this arena. People take responsibility!! I can't believe i am the first responder to this article. Shame on us.


Matthew Stoddard 8 years, 8 months ago

You're the first because all the other old posters went away because of trust issues with the Pilot having to verify info.

I don't personally think it infringes on civil liberties. Underage drinking can't be rampant in this town. I grew up doing it right here, way back when. We've already seen the Rio Blanco explosion within the last year, where adults were present with teens, and they were all drinking. (Generalizing "all" but I mean both adults and teens there were drinking.)

Sometimes, it's a 21-25yr old throwing a party and it gets crashed by underagers. Sometimes, those underagers are known and just let in with the rest of the party.


steamboatcrazy 8 years, 8 months ago

I have to agree with the bigdog.

Underage drinking has been going on since the begining of time. Education and parenting are the answers. Kids knowing they can call for a ride without fear. You made it out ok Matthew.


Matthew Stoddard 8 years, 8 months ago

Thanks, steamboatcrazy, but it took me a while. Some never do, and can pay a heavy price in life, both literally and figuratively. Part of the problem that I think this is trying to address is adults allowing kids to drink. They shouldn't until they are of legal age. I do agree- education and parenting are key...but sometimes a little kick in the butt from the law gets the point across when the other 2 factors are failing. Just my thoughts, at least.


trump_suit 8 years, 8 months ago

I think that it can be appropriate to go after the parents and/or the older 20 somethings that purchased the liquor, and knowingly provided it to teenagers.

Parents that think it is OK if the kids learn to drink at home are missing the boat. Other parents do not feel the same, and it has been proven in many studies that teenage drinking has a definite impact on alchohol problems later in life.


Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.