County board unanimously passes social host ordinance

Published 6:53 am Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mower County joined Austin and other area cities and counties in taking steps to prevent underage drinking.

The Mower County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a county social host ordinance on Tuesday. A social host ordinance allows law enforcement to punish people for providing liquor to people under the legal drinking age with a misdemeanor.

“At this time, it’s very difficult to prove that somebody actually provided the alcohol to minors,” said Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi. “But with a social host ordinance it will give us another tool to assist us when we do find these big parties in holding people responsible.”

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The Austin City Council unanimously passed a social host ordinance on Nov. 16. Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelsen said the county ordinance is very similar to Austin’s ordinance with a few variations in wording.

Nelsen previously expressed concern that minors would simply move parties outside the city limits if the county failed to pass a similar ordinance.

“It’s a multifaceted goal in that it provides law enforcement tools in trying to stem the tide of underage consumption of alcohol,” Nelsen said. “Additionally, it’s a tool that parents can use when they’re getting pressured to say, ‘Hey, I’m 18 and I want have my friends over for a party.'”

“It’s another tools for parents to say no without having to be completely the bad guys,” she added.

Parents can still allow their children to have a glass of wine with dinner, and the ordinance will not affect religious observances.

“It’s traditionally the 21- to 22-year-olds who are having parties for their younger age friends who are not of a legal drinking age,” Nelsen said. “This only comes into play when law enforcement is called to a location. Law enforcement’s not out looking for two guys having a beer in their backyard. It’s really for the larger parties.”

Along with giving law enforcement tools to combat underage drinking, Margene Gunderson, director of Mower County Community Health Services, said the ordinance could help prevent underage drinking.

“It also allows some conversation even around dinner tables and other places where people begin to understand the importance of curbing underage drinking,” Gunderson said. “And then discussing what are some of the high risks that can occur.”

Like Austin, other cities need to pass separate social host ordinances.