Social host ordinance could pass
City Council has lengthy debate about law to curb underage drinking
April 15, 2009
Steamboat Springs — Debate about a law that would create new penalties for accomplices to underage drinking covered a lot of ground Tuesday night, from moral codes and political philosophy to rumors of an unlawful New Year’s Eve party.
There ultimately was enough support from members of the Steamboat Springs City Council to bring the “social host” ordinance back for a first reading at a future council meeting. City ordinances are subject to two readings. If passed, the social host ordinance would allow authorities to fine adults found guilty of knowingly providing a location for underage drinking. Mandatory community service and adult education programs also would be imposed. Jail time for repeat offenders would be at the discretion of the municipal judge.
Dervla Lacy, Routt County director of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, said the ordinance would send “a clear and powerful message” that underage drinking is not tolerated in Steamboat Springs. She presented research and study conclusions to argue that regulations need to move inside private residences because that’s where teens drink most often.
“Our youths are not getting alcohol from bars and liquor stores,” she said.
Council members and residents who oppose the law compared it to Prohibition and said it could have the unintended consequence of moving underage drinking to outlying areas of Routt County and put more drunk drivers on the road. Councilwomen Meg Bentley and Cari Hermacinski asked why the law was necessary given current state laws, including one that prohibits “any person : to knowingly : suffer or permit” underage drinking.
Routt County District Attorney Carl Stahl said someone could be prosecuted under state laws but that a social host ordinance would give the city “broader enforcement powers.” Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae said that in his law enforcement career, he has never heard of anyone being chargesuccessfully or prosecuted under the state laws, but he promised to supply a more definitive answer in time for the ordinance’s first reading.
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This is the second time in less than a year that City Council has considered the law; it previously fell, 3-3, on a second reading in December. Proponents came to Tuesday’s meeting armed with additional research aimed at addressing enforceability, the potential for unintended consequences and other council members’ concerns. No new support was won, however, and City Council President Loui Antonucci, Bentley and Hermacinski voted against reconsidering the law.
“Kids are kids,” Antonucci said. “Kids want to drink. I wanted to drink. But I didn’t drink, because I knew my parents wouldn’t allow it. I never thought it was government’s job to raise people’s kids for them.”
But the presence of Councilman Jon Quinn, who missed the December vote, tilted the balance into the ordinance’s favor. Councilmen Steve Ivancie, Scott Myller and Walter Magill joined Quinn in support of the ordinance.
“For me, I think this all boils down to pushing it underground or condoning it,” Myller said. “And I don’t want to condone it.”
Unconfirmed rumors abounded at Tuesday’s meeting about an unidentified family in The Sanctuary neighborhood of Steamboat. According to the rumors, the family consistently hosts parties with alcohol for teenagers, including a reported New Year’s Eve bash after which a young man was said to be found passed out in the snow in his underwear the next morning.
Despite claims that police were aware of the parties at the residence, Rae said after the hearing that the stories were news to him. He said he would look into it. At 7:03 a.m. New Year’s Day, according to Routt County Communications reports, an ambulance was requested for a man passed out in the snow near a condominium complex. No address was given. Police said the man got up and ran away before the ambulance arrived.
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