County could follow city’s lead with social host ordinance

Published 6:40 am Wednesday, October 28, 2009

If the city enacts a new ordinance that punishes people for hosting parties where minors drink alcohol, the county could very well follow suit.

On Tuesday, the Mower County board discussed the possibility of enacting a “social host” ordinance, which would put the county with at least 30 other cities and counties across Minnesota that have a similar law in place.

St. Paul is the most recent city to enact such an ordinance — the measure passed unanimously earlier this month — and Austin could join the ranks Nov. 16, which is when its draft is likely to go up for a vote.

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County attorney Kristen Nelsen —who is on an area drug task force that presented the idea to city council — told the board that the ordinance would give parents, teachers and law enforcement officials another tool in combating underage drinking.

She also said it would be a no-brainer to pass the ordinance if the city does as well.

“It doesn’t make sense to have the law in the city but not the county,” Nelsen said. “You could just cross the road (to have a party).”

County officials haven’t drafted an ordinance yet, but it likely will closely resemble the city’s draft.

That proposed ordinance would hold someone responsible for allowing minors to consume alcohol at a public or private property and not taking steps to prevent it — even if that person is not at the property at the time.

It would exclude religious observations or instances when a minor consumes alcohol with only his or her parents around, but someone found guilty of violating the ordinance would face a misdemeanor.

Nelsen and others from the Austin Area Drug Task Force presented it at an Oct. 19 council meeting.

This included Lee Bjorndal, the city attorney in Albert Lea, where a social host ordinance was adopted in December 2008.

“It makes a lot of sense,” he said.

Bjorndal added that Albert Lea has had roughly a dozen cases under the new ordinance in the last year and that it has worked very effectively.

Commissioner Dick Lang said he’d be in favor of a similar ordinance in Mower County.

“I have no problem with something like that,” he said.