Our View: Council erred on host vote
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs City Council blew an opportunity last week to send a clear message to residents, particularly adults, that underage drinking will not be tolerated in our community.
While it would be naÃive to think a social host ordinance would end underage consumption of alcohol in Steamboat Springs, there is ample reason to believe it could have a chilling effect on adults in this community who allow underage drinking to take place in their homes.
The proposed social host ordinance failed by a 3-3 vote Tuesday. Councilman Jon Quinn, who previously had expressed support for the ordinance, was on vacation and didn’t attend Tuesday’s council meeting. Fault doesn’t lie with Quinn, but with the three council members – Loui Antonucci, Cari Hermacinski and Meg Bentley – who cast the dissenting votes. But Quinn’s absence means there’s reason for social host ordinance supporters to bring the proposal back to the council in the near future for another vote. We hope they seize that opportunity.
Social host ordinances have been adopted in cities and towns in more than 30 states, but Steamboat Springs would be the first Colorado municipality to put such a law on the books. In essence, the ordinance would fine adults who knowingly allow minors to consume alcohol on their property. According to the draft, a first offense would carry a fine of $500. Violators also would be required to perform 24 hours of community service and an alcohol education program paid for out of their own pocket. A potential jail sentence would be at the discretion of the municipal court judge.
Social host ordinances differ from laws such as contributing to the delinquency of a minor because they punish the adults who provide a space to drink as opposed to those who provide the alcohol that is consumed.
The ordinance has the support of the Steamboat Springs Police Department, Steamboat Springs School District, Colorado Mountain College, Steamboat Springs Teen Council and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, among other organizations devoted to our youths. We think there’s good reason to support the ordinance.
Survey after survey have proved that alcohol and drug consumption in our community is a serious problem, as are the criminal acts such as sexual assault and rape that too often go hand-in-hand with binge drinking and drug use. Any honest Steamboat Springs High School student will attest to the frequent house parties where parents allow or even encourage drinking to take place.
Critics of the social host ordinance say it would force kids into the woods or other areas to party, as opposed to the “safety” of a home. They say it’s better to allow kids to learn to drink responsibly while under the watchful eye of an adult.
We couldn’t disagree more. Since when is it OK for one parent to determine the behavior that’s acceptable for children who aren’t theirs? And if parents are worried about their kids drinking and driving as a result of the social host ordinance, doesn’t the responsibility fall on their shoulders to know where their child is and what they’re doing? Underage drinking is illegal, and adults who allow it to take place in their homes ought to be subject to penalties, period. The only message sent by allowing kids to get drunk is that it’s OK to do so. We urge social host ordinance supporters to consider bringing the proposal back to a full council in the near future.
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