By Samantha Pidde
Herald Staff Writer
Clinton County residents hosting underage drinking parties will soon find themselves facing criminal charges.
The new social host ordinance was approved during the Feb. 4 Clinton County Board of Supervisors meeting and will be in effect once it is published in the media. It will be officially published in the Clinton Herald on Monday.
Once in effect, anyone knowingly allowing underage individuals to possess or consume alcoholic beverages on the premises of his or her property could be charged with a simple misdemeanor. They would be subject to a fine between $65 and $650 and ordered to serve up to 30 days if convicted.
“Teenagers make bad decisions sometimes when they drink alcohol,” said Clinton County Deputy Sgt. Steve Cundiff, who helped draft the ordinance.
Cundiff hopes that this ordinance will deter drinking by teenagers. He pointed out that the county has seen deaths of teenagers due to alcohol and he feels it is important to change the thinking that underage drinking is acceptable.
“We don’t want to go out there and pick kids off of the pavement,” Cundiff said. The Clinton County ordinance was modeled after the Linn County social ordinance, with a few changes. The ordinance was drafted by the Clinton County Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant Collaborative Group, with assistance from Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf.
In working on the ordinance, Wolf said he spoke to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office about the possibility of having a statewide social host law. He said he was told that while the topic has been considered, at this point it is left for each county to make its own ordinance. Wolf added that if enough Iowa counties work on these ordinances, it would be easier to make it state law.
Wolf was unsure on how many of the 99 counties in Iowa have social host ordinances, but did not feel there are many. According to the Helping Services for Northeast Iowa website, http://www.helpingservices.org/Community_Initiatives/social-hosting-laws.shtml, 15 counties and 12 cities have passed social host ordinances, not including Clinton County.
“We’re in a minority for sure,” Wolf said.
Wolf said the biggest change from the Linn County ordinance is that the Clinton County ordinance does not apply to only those above 21 years old. Teenagers who hold a party when their parents are out of town and unaware could be charged under the new ordinance.
Under the Linn County ordinance, hosting a social gathering with underage drinking is a civil penalty. Wolf said he decided to change it to a simple misdemeanor for the Clinton County ordinance. His decision was based on the fact that county law enforcement already have these criminal forms and know how to fill them out.
“Having it as a criminal penalty, it will be easier to enforce,” Wolf said.
According to the new ordinance, a social host is defined as any “person, partnership, corporation or association of one or more individuals who aids, entertains, organizes, supervises, controls or permits an event, gathering or party.” A social host who willingly allows underage drinking on the premises can be charged even if he or she is not present.
A host who takes reasonable steps to prevent the possession or consumption of alcohol by underage individuals has an affirmative defense. The host also has a defense if he or she notified law enforcement and allowed them to enter the premises to stop the illegal activities. The ordinance makes the exception of actions legally protected by religious observances and actions permitted under Section 123.47(2)of Iowa Code, which includes cases where liquor, wine or beer is given in a private home with the knowledge, presence and consent of a parent or guardian or when it is administered by either a physician or dentist for medicinal purposes.
Wolf is unsure if the county will see many charges coming from this ordinance. He said its main purpose is to divert responsibility to those who encourage teenagers to drink.
He hopes having this ordinance will make people think twice before hosting parties with underage consumption of alcohol.
“The point isn’t to get a lot of charges. The point is to send that message,” Wolf said. “This isn’t the right time and the right place for you (to drink).”