Cari Hermacinski: Solutions needed |

Cari Hermacinski: Solutions needed

— Research shows that Steamboat Springs has an occurrence of underage alcohol use that exceeds most communities. This is deeply troubling to me as a community member, councilwoman and mother. I do not believe that there is any “safe” location for underage alcohol use.

The clear goal of any legislation addressing this problem, including social host or teen party ordinances, should be to reduce the overall incidence of underage alcohol use. While underage use leads to many negative outcomes and consequences, the most concerning is the ultimate tragedy – the death of a child. I agree with my fellow council members who voted in favor of the proposed social host ordinance that we, as a community, must “do something” to address this problem.

Although it is apparent that social host ordinances have been well-received (more than half of all states have adopted them) there was no data, provided to us either by city staff or proponents of the social host ordinance, that showed a reduction in overall underage drinking pursuant to the adoption of a social host ordinance. This ambiguity as to effectiveness would not necessarily prevent me from voting for adoption of a social host ordinance. What did sway my vote was a 2000 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and reported in Accident Analysis and Prevention. The HHS report determined that communities with social host liability actually experienced the horrific effect of increased teen traffic deaths after the adoption of a social host ordinance.

To date, the discussion has centered on whether the ordinance will force teens out of homes and into cars, whether it will force teens out of city boundaries and into the county, how the ordinance differs from the current state statutes, if Fourth Amendment issues regarding search and seizure will stymie effective enforcement and whether the ordinance will reduce the frequency of underage use. The fact is, we don’t have any data to guide us on these questions. The only intrinsic, statistically significant data provided to the council is the study I cited above.

We must not engage in hyperbole or speculation. The stakes are too high to let heightened emotion and philosophical difference divide us. Supporters of the social host ordinance indicated that it is only one tool, so there may be other solutions. I would vote to use the city’s legislative powers to provide solutions to the problems of underage drinking as long as I can be assured that by “doing something” I will not be using the power temporarily entrusted to me by my fellow community members to inadvertently harm our children. I support the effort to address this community problem.

Cari Hermacinski

Steamboat Springs

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