Homeowners serving alcohol to minors put on notice by county board

Underage drinking has been a problem for generations. Over time, laws have been enacted and enforced to target the underage drinkers as well as those adults who buy for them. But a loophole in the law made it impossible to prosecute those who host parties where underage drinking takes place.
At the Aug. 28 meeting of the Wright County Board, the commissioners unanimously adopted a social host ordinance that would make it a misdemeanor to knowingly host a party where underage drinking will take place.
County Attorney Tom Kelly spelled out the reason for enacting such an ordinance, which had been approved in 84 Minnesota cities and 19 counties since 2007.
“This proposed ordinance makes it illegal to host or allow a gathering of three or more people on private or public property where the host knows … minors will consume alcohol and the host does not take reasonable steps to stop it,” Kelly said. “The ordinance makes it unlawful to provide an environment where underage drinking takes place without regard to who supplied the alcohol to the minors.”
The ordinance came to the board with support from the state office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Wright County Sheriff’s Department, police chiefs from Annandale, Buffalo and Howard Lake,  and Wright County Public Health and Human Services. Kelly said the need for such an ordinance is in place because underage drinking remains a significant problem – statewide and in Wright County.
“Recent statistics show that 53 percent of underage drinkers aged 12 to 20 would drink at someone else’s home and 30 percent of them said they would drink in their own home with others,” Kelly said. “Underage drinking is rampant and most kids think it is their rite of passage. The culture today is beer bongs, beer pong, ‘quarters’ and other drinking games. Unfortunately, it appears the culture now is for kids to drink as fast as they can and as much as they can. The alcohol content we are seeing is extremely high. Binge drinking is killing people.”
Kelly pointed out that the ordinance isn’t blanketing everyone whose homes are hosting parties unbeknown to them. It is targeting the knowing hosts, and not landlords or parents who are away and unaware of the scene.
County commissioners said that such a law is needed to stem the tide of underage drinking by serving harsher penalties for those who act as hosts.
“This has always been a problem and anything we can do to help try to stop it is a good thing,” said Commissioner Dick Mattson. “How much is a life worth? That’s the question we need to ask ourselves.”
Also on the Sept. 68 agenda, the board:
* Heard from Mattson, who returned to the regular board meetings for the first time in two months since undergoing surgery that had him near death in July. He thanked all those who showed him care and support during his convalescence.
* Accepted the July monthly report from the Tri-County Regional Forensic Laboratory in Anoka County.
* Set a tax forfeiture meeting for 8:30 a.m. Sept. 4 to discuss a request from two cities in the county to acquire property under the public provision of tax forfeiture laws.
* Laid over bids that were received for work that is needed on Joint Ditch 15. Three bids were received, but were laid over because the bids quoted prices for different lengths of cleanup on the ditch.
* Set a Joint Ditch 14 meeting for 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Stockholm Township Community Center to discuss repairs and assessments.