Those under 21 caught drinking alcohol at a party are often cited by law enforcement officers with a misdemeanor charge.
Under a proposal being considered by the Brainerd City Council, the hosts of the party could be criminally liable, too.
The council on Monday held the first reading on a social host ordinance, aimed at curbing underage drinking parties.
If enacted, the ordinance would make it unlawful for anyone to allow an event or gathering at a residence or other premises when the person knows that there will be underage drinking or underage possession of alcohol.
A person who hosts an event or gathering at which underage drinking takes place doesn’t have to be present at the event or gathering to be criminally responsible. A violation of the ordinance would be a misdemeanor.
Baxter also has a social host ordinance.
The ordinance doesn’t apply to conduct solely between an underage person and his or her parents, legally protected religious observances, to establishments holding intoxicating liquor or 3.2 malt liquor licenses or to such establishments that employ underage persons.
Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston said the social host ordinance will give police officers another tool to combat underage drinking parties. He said often when officers respond it’s difficult to prove or find enough evidence to charge someone for gross misdemeanor furnishing alcohol to minors.
“This will help us deal with that. It keeps them accountable at their premises,” McQuiston said.
The social host ordinance isn’t being proposed because the number of underage drinking parties have been increasing, McQuiston said. He said department sergeants had been kicking around the idea of such an ordinance for a couple of years but held off with the idea that the Legislature would pass a law regarding it.
“But now with some of the other important issues the Legislature has to tackle we’re done waiting for it and we’re moving ahead,” McQuiston said.
Council member Kevin Goedker said the proposed ordinance appeared to be creating a law for something that was already illegal.
Brainerd Police Officer Craig Katzenberger said the ordinance would hold the people hosting responsible instead of having to have officers prove who brought the alcohol.
Council President Mary Koep questioned what would happen if an underage drinking party were held on city property. City Attorney Tom Fitzpatrick pointed out the proposed ordinance definitions, a person doesn’t include any city, county or state agency. City Administrator Dan Vogt said alcohol already isn’t allowed on city property.
Council member Kelly Bevans said in the past five years, at an underage drinking party in Brainerd, one of the kids got into a car and died. He said nobody at the party took responsibility for supplying the alcohol. “It just magically appeared,” Bevans said. He asked the council members what they would do if it was their child who died after attending a party.
“It’s a matter of owning up to the responsibility you have when you invite people into your house,” Bevans said.
Koep responded that in many cases it’s not the parents who invite people in for the party but their children.
The public hearing and final consideration for adoption of the ordinance will be held at 7:30 p.m. on May 16 at Brainerd City Hall.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.