BAXTER - Baxter is cracking down on people hosting parties or events where underage drinking is taking place.
The Baxter City Council on Tuesday adopted a social host ordinance that makes it a crime for anyone to host events or gatherings where people younger than 21 are drinking or possessing alcohol, regardless if the host is the one who provided the alcohol or is even present at the event.
The ordinance states that though underage drinking parties or gatherings often happen outside of the presence of parents, there are times when parents are present, condone the activity or even provide the alcohol.
"It's intended to get parents, adults or property owners a sense they shouldn't be allowing this," Baxter City Administrator Gordon Heitke said before Tuesday's Baxter City Council meeting.
Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted said the ordinance is modeled after a Chaska ordinance created after an intoxicated boy left a house party, passed out on his way home and died.
In the past, officers were able to cite underage drinkers at parties but often were unable to determine who provided the alcohol. The ordinance, he said, allows police officers to hold the host of underage drinking parties - be it a parent, child or other individual - responsible.
"The social host ordinance gives law enforcement more teeth in the fight against underage drinking," Exsted said.
Exsted said such underage parties are not common in the city and there was no incident or driving force behind the ordinance. He said in the past there have been a few residences where underage drinking parties were continually held despite law enforcement officials citing the kids for underage consumption.
"What we're saying as a city, what we're saying as a police department is that we're not OK with you hosting a party where underage kids are drinking," Exsted said.
Violating the social host ordinance is a misdemeanor crime.
The ordinance states: "The city intends to discourage underage possession and consumption of alcohol, even if done within the confines of a private residence, and intends to hold persons criminally responsible who host events or gatherings where persons under 21 years of age possess or consume alcohol regardless of whether the person hosting the event or gathering supplied the alcohol."
The ordinance applies to all private and public places, including homes, yards, farms, fields, land, apartments, condos, hotel or motel rooms; meeting halls, meeting rooms, parks and any other place of assembly.
The ordinance doesn't apply to conduct solely between an underage person and his or her parents while present in the parent's household, to legally protected religious observances, to liquor licenses already regulated by Minnesota statute or situations where underage persons are lawfully in possession of alcohol or alcoholic beverages during the course of employment.
Council member Jim Klein hoped police officers would use discretion when citing people for violation of the ordinance. He said there would be instances at a home, park or a wedding reception where it would be hard to keep track of kids who are drinking.
"Those situations require a little perspective, that's all," Klein said. "There's a little ambiguity and legalese in this (ordinance)."
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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