Alcohol task force supports ordinance
About a dozen members of the Jefferson County Alcohol Consumption Task Force attended the county supervisors meeting Monday to show support of a proposal for the county to adopt a social host ordinance.
“I looked at examples of other counties’ ordinances,” said Assistant County Attorney Pat McAvan who drafted the ordinance. “I included language about controlled substances and prescription drugs in ours. Alcohol remains the prevalent issue, but we are seeing parties, so-called ‘Skittles parties’ where a bunch of prescription drugs are thrown together and participants take some without knowing what they are.
“The ordinance has no criminal penalties, only civil penalties,” said McAvan. “It’s essentially a financial penalty.”
Violations will be $750 civil fine for first offense and a $1,000 civil fine for second and subsequent offenses.
The ordinance will be on Monday’s board of supervisors agenda to set dates for a public hearing and two or three public readings before being adopted by the county. It will take effect throughout Jefferson County, including in municipalities that have not enacted a municipal ordinance dealing with similar subject matter, 60 days after its final passage and supervisors approval.
The proposed ordinance defines alcohol as any beverage containing more than 0.5 percent of alcohol by volume including liquor, wine and beer.
An event, gathering or party is any group of three or more persons who have assembled for a social occasion. Premises includes any home, yard, farm, field, land, apartment, condominium, hotel or motel room and other dwelling unit, or a hall or meeting room, park or any place of assembly, public or private . . . whether used with or without permission.
It will be unlawful for any social host to knowingly permit or allow or reasonably should know underage persons to consume or possess alcohol, controlled substances and prescription drugs; the social host does not have to be on the premises at the time.
The ordinance states a social host has an affirmative defense if the host took reasonable steps to prevent the possession or consumption of alcohol, controlled substances or prescription drugs, such as contacting law enforcement and allowing officers onto the premises for the purpose of stopping the illegal activities.
The ordinance does not apply to conduct solely between an underage person and parents while present in the parents’ household, to legally protected religious observances, and to situations where underage persons are lawfully in possession of alcoholic beverages during the course and scope of employment. This chapter does not apply to prescription drugs that are lawfully possessed and consumed.
“Our ACT coalition is seeking partnership with the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors to adopt a social host ordinance,” said Don Sander, coalition coordinator.
Sander shared statistics from the Iowa Youth Survey in 2012: Jefferson County had 43 percent of boys and 21 percent of girls under age 21 describe receiving alcohol from adults who provide party sites where youth drinking occurs. Adult supplied alcohol is the number one source for county underage youth. It is also a contributor to the 33 percent of county youth who report binge drinking — five or more drinks in one setting.
“We believe the social host ordinance will be a valuable law enforcement tool and it will be a significant environment change policy reducing youth alcohol abuse in Jefferson County,” said Sander.
Jefferson County Sheriff Gregg Morton said the ordinance would make adults responsible for providing alcohol for consumption by underage youth.
“It’s a communitywide problem and needs a communitywide solution,” said McAvan.
Supervisor chairman Lee Dimmitt, who also is a member of ACT, said adult attitudes need to be changed.
Comparing three neighboring counties, ACT literature said Henry County has 1,640 fewer adult binge drinkers than Jefferson County; and Washington County has 1,405 fewer adult binge drinkers than Jefferson County.
Sander said Washington County adopted a social host ordinance in 2008 and ranks 67 out of Iowa’s 99 counties for reported underage and binge drinking. Henry County adopted a social host ordinance in 2010 and ranks 64th in the state, compared to Jefferson County’s rank of second highest in Iowa.
Three neighboring states — Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri — have statewide social host laws.
State Rep. Curt Hanson, also with the task force and at Monday’s meeting, said he learned about the issue very early on working with teens as a high school teacher.
“Anything we can do to give law enforcement more tools to deal with underage drinking is good,” said Hanson.
Supervisor Dick Reed said by the time law enforcement gets involved is almost too late.
“Education [about underage drinking] is the least expensive and the best chance of making a difference,” said Sander.
“We’ve been educating two years now in Jefferson County and we’ve seen a significant difference.
“We have to develop partners along the way, and we’re asking the supervisors to partner with us.
“Our coalition was part of the process in re-writing the school district’s good conduct policy,” said Sander.
Other local partners with the alcohol consumption task force include: Jefferson County Parents, Fairfield Community School District, Fairfield Community School District Board of Directors, Juvenile Court Services, Jefferson County Veterans Affairs, Fairfield Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Jefferson County Attorney, Maharishi University of Management, Jefferson County Public Health, Southern Iowa Economic Development Association, Jefferson County Board of Supervisors and Fairfield City Council.