Think before you let them drink: Allamakee County passes stricter "Social Host" ordinance

by Lissa Blake

Allamakee adults who serve liquor to minors will have more to lose, following the passage of a new Allamakee County “Social Host” ordinance. The Allamakee County Board of Supervisors recently passed the Allamakee County Social Host and Civil Cost Recovery Ordinance, which imposes stricter penalties than the State of Iowa law which was passed two years ago.

When the State of Iowa passed a “social host” law in 2015, local advocates in Allamakee County didn’t think the fine of $200 was strict enough to change anyone’s behavior. Allamakee Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP)/Iowa Partnerships for Success representatives Jean Bossom and Max Grotegut thought Allamakee County could do better.

“We didn’t think, as a coalition, that $200 was enough of a deterrent,” said Grotegut.

Through the Iowa Partnerships for Success Grant, which started last year, counties were given the goal of reducing underage drinking and underage binge drinking. “We chose to focus on a social host ordinance, because the Iowa Youth Survey showed that’s where (from parents) a majority of kids are getting their alcohol,” said Grotegut.

While the State law dictates that adults over the age of 18 can get fined $200 for their first offense and $500 for a second offense, Allamakee County’s newly-passed ordinance goes further.

Allamakee County Attorney Jill Kistler helped draft the ordinance. "For several years I have been in support of passing a social host ordinance in Allamakee County, and I’m glad our County Board of Supervisors recognizes the value of such an ordinance," Kistler said. "The newly adopted social host ordinance covers a gap in our current State law by addressing all underage drinking, not just drinking by minors under the age of 18."

"The new ordinance also acts as an additional deterrent to those who may otherwise decide to allow underage drinking in their homes, as it provides stricter punishments for social hosting," Kistler continued. "I believe this is important, because there appears to be a common misconception that parents who allow underage drinking in their homes or under their supervision are protecting their children. The research on social hosting clearly shows that the allowance of underage drinking leads to a stronger likelihood of drinking during adolescence and places our youth at higher risk for drinking and driving, heavy episodic drinking and other alcohol-related problems. By passing a social host ordinance at the local level, greater emphasis is placed on the unacceptability of the practice of social hosting. It is my hope that the passage of this ordinance will reduce social hosting in Allamakee County and lead to a better understanding of the links between social hosting and underage drinking, and the detrimental consequences associated with underage drinking, which directly and indirectly affect our community."

The new ordinance recently passed by the County Board of Supervisors says a first offense in Allamakee County is $500 plus court costs, and a second offense is $750 plus court costs. In addition, the Allamakee County ordinance may require violators to reimburse the County for the cost of providing public safety services, such as fire, ambulance, police and other emergency providers.

In the event the responsible person (for serving the liquor) is a juvenile, the parents or guardians of that juvenile will be liable for the imposition of civil penalties for the cost of providing public safety services. Bossom and Grotegut said they hope the emergency personnel reimbursement portion of the ordinance will serve as a greater deterrent as well.

“If there’s a car accident in one of our communities and law enforcement is busy breaking up a party somewhere else, that’s a problem,” said Grotegut.

Bossom and Grotegut have spent the last three years rallying local support for such an ordinance. “Our job is to educate people,” said Grotegut.

They set up booths at local parent-teacher conferences and wellness fairs and garnered signatures in support of the measure. “There were very few people who didn’t want to talk about it,” said Bossom.

Although they hope the local ordinance will change some behavior, Bossom and Grotegut said they realize there is more work to do.

“It’s concerning that in the most recent Iowa Youth Survey, a place where we didn’t show improvement was where minors are getting their alcohol … kids are still getting it from parents,” said Grotegut.

According to the 2016 Iowa Youth Survey, Allamakee County juniors in high school who reported using alcohol decreased from 39 percent in 2014 to 27 percent in 2016; however, there were still two areas which did not show improvement: When students were asked where they got their alcohol, two percent more (than the 2014 survey) responded they had gotten it from a parent, and six percent more said their parents didn’t feel underage drinking was wrong.

“Providing liquor to youth is already against the law. We’re looking for this to be a deterrent and to change the culture in Allamakee County,” added Grotegut.

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