City Council Increases Penalties for Adults Who Allow Minors to Drink at Parties

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MTT News Desk's picture
Matt Geiger
The City Council says it doesn't want parents to offer a "safe haven" for teens who wish to drink.

The Middleton Common Council on Tuesday reiterated its opposition to, and significantly increased local penalties levied against, adults who help minors gain access to alcohol.

District 1 alderman Paul Kinne said the ordinance, which was approved unanimously, was designed to counter a “disturbing trend” in which adults believe they are preventing drunk driving and other dangerous activities by allowing minors to drink in a safe setting.

“[P]eople assume that if teenagers aren’t driving … there’s no harm,  no foul,” Kinne stated.

Tuesday’s vote to impose fines of up to $5,000 for repeat offenders showed the Middleton Common Council disagrees with parents who feel that way. The ordinance says it is intended to “clearly address the problem of adult-hosted underage drinking parties, and to discourage underage possession and consumption of alcohol, regardless of the location within the City of Middleton.”

Adults contributing to underage alcohol violations, who in law enforcement circles are called “social hosts,” are now subject to $500 in fines for each of the first two violations, $1,000 for the third violation, and $5,000 for each subsequent violation, during a 30-month period.

The fines were also reviewed and approved by Municipal Judge Marjorie Schuett.

According to a report by the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy project, the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of Wisconsin high school students showed 39 percent had consumed alcohol within the proceeding 30 days and 24 percent had engaged in binge drinking in the previous 30 days.

Middleton's ordinance says it is intended to stop parents from providing a “safe haven” for unlawful consumption or possession of alcohol.

“It’s already illegal,” Kinne pointed out. (Hosting such parties is unlawful under a state statute that had been adopted by reference in the City of Middleton Code of Ordinances.)

So Kinne said the changes approved by the city serve as “a restatement of policy” and to “drastically increase the penalties.”

The ordinance seeks to punish parents who host, facilitate, or even fail to stop such parties if they have knowledge of them. It asserts that “too frequently adults in the City of Middleton facilitate underage drinking parties where underage persons are permitted to consume and possess alcohol without being accompanied by their parent, legal guardian or adult spouse.”

The ordinance goes on to say that “regardless of intentions, such events frequently lead to irresponsible, dangerous and unlawful behavior.”

Violations listed in the ordinance include knowingly permitting underage persons to consume alcohol; providing a hotel,  motel or other room or property for rent where teens will consume or possess alcohol; and failure to take “reasonable action” to prevent such violations.

District 7 alderman Hans Hilbert said social hosts might unwittingly be causing “destruction” to young people, so it was time for the city council to act.

“It really is our role as government to show that these laws are on the books for a reason,” Hilbert said.

He added that his position is not that of a teetotaler. Hilbert said he is not opposed to existing state laws that allow minors to drink alcohol, in some instances, when accompanied by a parent, legal guardian, or adult spouse.

But Hilbert said parents or guardians must assume responsibility and be present for such consumption.

Capt. Chuck Foulke, of the Middleton Police Department, said the ordinance language approved earlier this week was part of a “countywide effort to publicize, educate and deter" social host parties.

“Luckily, we have not had to deal with one of the really big parties that have gotten out of hand,” Foulke said. He said local police usually see “a handful” of instances each year that would qualify under the ordinance.

The Middleton Police Department plans to send a letter on Monday to 75 local businesses that sell alcohol. The letter will inform them that police will be sending underaged persons into such establishments in the coming months, to make sure they are properly checking IDs.



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