Group looks to expand social host ordinance

Community members in Hamilton County are looking to get a social host ordinance approved county-wide.

A social host ordinance was passed in Webster City in February of 2011. The ordinance focuses on preventing underage drinking on private property without regard to who furnishes the alcohol, according to Community and Family Resources. Rather, the ordinance allows law enforcement officials to cite the individual who hosts a party with underage drinkers.

Community and Family Resources, CFR, has been working to get the ordinance passed county-wide since it was adopted in Webster City. CFR received a grant through the state for a three-year project to get the ordinance adopted in Hamilton County, with funding between $75,000 and $100,000 per year.

The funds were given when Hamilton County was identified as one of 23 counties in Iowa that met the highest need criteria for dangerous alcohol consumption patterns. Kathy Getting, anti-drug coalition director at Upper Des Moines Opportunity, said Hamilton County barely made the list of the 23 counties. However, 2012 Iowa Youth Survey data said that 38 percent of sixth, eighth and eleventh grade students in Hamilton County felt it was easy or very easy for someone their age to obtain alcohol.

Since the passage of the ordinance in Webster City, Getting and CFR began to focus on expanding the adoption of the ordinance.

“When we went to the board of supervisors, we were told that we should get more support from rural towns and areas in Hamilton County before passing it county-wide,” Getting said. “So, that’s what we’re doing.”

Shelly Lumsden, from CFR, presented the ordinance to the Ellsworth city council on June 26. The council took no action at the meeting. Webster City still remains the only place in Hamilton County with a social host ordinance.

Getting said that since the adoption of the ordinance in Webster City, it has been cited in two instances. In one instance, Getting said someone was charged with a social host ordinance violation. As part of their probation, if they didn’t host any other parties with underage drinking for a certain amount of time, their fine would be lifted. In another instance, Getting said that law enforcement officials were tipped off about a planned party and were able to speak to the parents who were to host the party on their property and inform them of the ordinance.

While the ordinance is aimed at parents and adults who knowingly allow underage drinking to occur on their property in a party setting, it is not designed or intended to punish parents who might share a drop of alcohol.

“It’s not aggressively seeking to curtail social gatherings where parents are there with their children and they might have a sip of alcohol in the presence of their parents,” Getting said.

Still, Getting said that parents who let their children drink with them are more likely to drink more when they drink.

CFR said the ordinance is aimed at reducing underage alcohol use and reducing adult binge drinking and increasing law enforcement official’s ability to abate parties where alcohol is consumed by minors. Much of the need for the ordinance also comes from the financial cost of underage and binge drinking. Getting said underage drinkers cost the state of iowa just over $580 million. Much of that cost comes from youth violence, traffic crashes, property crime and other crimes. The cost is also associated with medical costs incurred and the cost of work time lost.

Reducing underage drinking is also important for the long term health of people. Getting said that people who drink before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence. She said that number drops until age 21, where if a person begins drinking at the legal age, they only have a 10 percent chance of developing alcohol dependence, unless they have a family history of alcoholism.