Wednesday, August 6, 2008
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 email@example.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.