New state law is designed to reduce underage drinking

Beginning July 1, every police and sheriff’s department in Iowa will have an additional tool to help reduce underage drinking: a social host law.

During the 2014 Iowa legislative session, through the efforts of numerous community members, prevention coalitions and Iowa legislators, the statewide social host law was sent to Gov. Terry Branstad, who later signed it into law. This means that when an adult knows youth 17 years old or younger are drinking in the homes, buildings or yards the adult owns, leases or rents and the adult does nothing to stop it he or she can be charged with a simple misdemeanor and fined $200.

Alcohol provided to a child by the parent in their home continues to be legal with the knowledge, consent and presence of the child’s parent or guardian. Alcoholic beverages consumed in the practice of a religious service, observance or rite is also exempt. The social host law does not apply to juveniles who lawfully handle alcohol in their employment, or the landlords or managers of that property.

The state social host law does not affect those social host ordinances already enacted by counties and cities. For example, Webster City and Randall have ordinances that apply to youth ages 20 or younger and assess $500 fines in civil court.

An overwhelming majority of youth 93 percent reported that their parents did not want them to drink alcohol without their permission, according to the 2012 Iowa Youth Survey. In the same survey, obtaining alcohol at parties was identified as the most common way for Hamilton County youth to obtain alcohol. Some local community activists have been promoting social host ordinances at the city and state level for a number of years to address this condition.

After successfully passing a stronger version of the social host bill in the Iowa House in 2013, some opponents to the bill in 2014 brought up the failed reasoning from the 1970s: That is, if youth are old enough to serve and die for their country, they are old enough to drink alcohol.

During the Vietnam Conflict, Iowa tried that policy and it didn’t work. Iowa lowered its drinking age to 18, and then gradually raised it back to 21 when the social costs became too high.

Beyond that, drinking alcohol and serving in the armed services are too dissimilar for one to justify the second. Service men and women put their lives on the line for the common good and a higher cause. They are trained to identify risks and then taught how to handle them prior to going into dangerous situations. They have leaders who work to bring them back alive.

People drink alcohol for personal gratification with little or no training from others. No higher official looks out for their safety, except for the law enforcement officers who protect and serve.

Social costs are high already: In 2006, underage drinking cost Iowans $255 million in healthcare costs, lost productivity and other related costs, according to the “American Journal of Preventive Medicine.”

Preventing youth from experiencing the personal heartache that is a consequence of underage drinking in the form of STDs, accidents, sexual assaults, violence, unplanned pregnancy or alcohol poisoning will always be a worthwhile endeavor.

Kathy Getting is coalition director of Power Up YOUth, a coalition of people who care about teenage substance abuse. Its goal is safe, strong kids in a safe, strong Hamilton County. It starts with hope, a hope to make the best community in which Hamilton County children thrive.