Two plead guilty following charges under the city’s ‘social host’ law

Published 6:54 am Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Two Austin 20-year-olds — who were among the first to be charged under the city’s new “social host” law — both pleaded guilty Monday to the misdemeanor offense.

Mitchell Anthony Jaeger and Brian Wayne Voigt were each sentenced to one-year probation terms and $385 fines for their role in facilitating an early-January house party at 800 Second Ave. SW in which upwards of 40 minors were caught drinking.

A third man at the party, 20-year-old Ryan Thomas Palmer, was also charged with a social host offense and awaits a Feb. 22 arraignment.

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Collectively, the young men were the first test cases of the new law, which was passed by city council in November. Under the social host ordinance, Austin residents that allow minors to drink — without taking steps to prevent it — will be slapped with misdemeanors.

There are exceptions for religious observations or instances when a minor consumes alcohol with only his or her parents around.

Austin is one of nearly 40 cities and counties in the state with such a law on the books, with Minneapolis City Council recently taking up discussion on possibly enacting an ordinance of their own.

There is no comparable state law, which is why officials in Austin and elsewhere have pushed so hard to pass social host regulations that are meant to combat underage drinking.

Locally, that push largely came from the Austin Area Drug Task Force, a group comprised of various area leaders.

Thor Bergland, a teacher at Austin High School and also a member of the task force, said the law is very important in protecting youngsters’ safety.

“Our goal is to protect the kids,” he said at a November council meeting.

Social host laws are also seen as very effective, former police chief and task force member Paul Philipp said. He added that they give law enforcement “more teeth” when dealing with minor consumption problems.

“They work,” the former chief said.

That’s certainly the case in Albert Lea, where a social host ordinance in place since late 2008 was one of the motivating factors for Austin officials to get their law passed.

In 2009, when Albert Lea’s social host ordinance was first put to use, 13 people were people were charged for violating the law — 12 of them pleaded guilty without going to trial.

Former Austin mayor and current task force member Bonnie Rietz said that’s a sign of the law’s effectiveness.

“Yes, it’s working for them,” Rietz said.