Wright County approves social host ordinance

By John Holler

Underage drinking has been a problem for generations. Over time, laws have been enacted and enforced to target the underage drinkers and the adults that purchase alcohol for them. But a loophole in the law made it impossible to prosecute those who host parties in which underage drinking takes place. At the Aug. 28 meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, the board unanimously adopted a social host ordinance that would make it a misdemeanor to knowingly host a party where underage drinking will take place.

County Attorney Tom Kelly spelled out the reason for enacting such an ordinance, which has already been in enacted in 84 cities and 19 counties in the state since 2007.

“This proposed ordinance makes it illegal to host or allow a gathering of three or more people on private or public property where the host knows or reasonably should minors will consume alcohol and the host does not take reasonable steps to stop it,” Kelly said. “The ordinance makes it unlawful to provide an environment where underage drinking takes place without regard to who supplied the alcohol to the minors.”

The ordinance came to the board with the support of the state office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Wright County sheriff’s department, the police chiefs from Annandale, Buffalo and Howard Lake, Wright County human services/public health, Wright County Safe Schools, Wright County court services, MEADA and Safe Communities of Wright County. Kelly said the need for such an ordinance is in place because underage drinking remains a significant problem — statewide and in Wright County.

“Recent statistics show that 53 percent of underage drinkers aged 12 to 20 would drink at someone else’s home and 30 percent of them said would drink in their own home with others,” Kelly said. “Underage drinking is rampant and most kids think it is their rite of passage. The culture today is beer bongs, beer pong, quarters and other drinking games. Unfortunately, it appears the culture now is for kids to drink as fast as they can and as much as they can. The alcohol content we are seeing is extremely high. Binge drinking is killing people.”

Kelly pointed out that the ordinance simply isn’t blanketing everyone who has a party in their home unbeknownst to them. It is targeting the knowing host and the ordinance doesn’t include merely owning a property in which drinking takes place, parents who are away from home with no knowledge their kids are throwing a party, landlords without knowledge of underage drinking parties or farmers whose land is used for an outdoor gathering.

The board unanimously approved the ordinance, saying that such a law is needed to try to stem the tide of underage drinking by providing more severe penalties for those who serve as a host.

“This has always been a problem and anything we can do to help try to stop it is a good thing,” Commissioner Dick Mattson said. “How much is a life worth? That’s the question we need to ask ourselves.”

In other items on the Aug. 28 agenda, the board:

HEARD from Mattson, who returned to the regular board meetings for the first time in two months since undergoing surgery that had him near death in July. He thanked all those who showed him the caring and support during his convalescence.

ACCEPTED the July monthly report from the Tri-County Regional Forensic Laboratory in Anoka County.

SET a tax forfeiture meeting for 8:30 a.m. prior to the Sept. 4 county board meeting to discuss a request from two cities in the county to acquire tax forfeit property under the public provision of tax forfeiture laws.

LAID over for one week, bids that were received for work that is needed to be done on Joint Ditch 15. Three bids were received, but were laid over because the bids quoted prices for different lengths of cleanup on the ditch and needed to be reviewed to determine which bid is the best value to the county.

SET a Joint Ditch 14 meeting for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12, at the Stockholm Township Community Center to discuss the repairs that are needed to the ditch and how much benefited landowners will be assessed when the work is completed.