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Counties trail cities in passing social host laws

Only 17 counties have passed ordinances

February 17, 2013
By Fritz Busch - Staff Writer , The Journal

BROWN COUNTY - While many cities have adopted Social Host Ordinances (SHO) in Minnesota, such regulations are being approved by counties at a much slower rate.

More than 100 Minnesota cities have such ordinances, but only about one-fourth of the state's 87 counties have them. As of July 29, 2011, Minnesota counties with SHO included Cass, Chisago, Freeborn, Goodhue, Hubbard, Isanti, Jackson, Kanabec, Kandiyohi, Mower, Renville, Rice, Scott, Sherburne, Wilkin, and Yellow Medicine.

The ordinances have been approved in the Brown County cities of New Ulm, Sleepy Eye, Springfield and Comfrey, plus many other area cities.

Two weeks ago, Brown County commissioners held a public hearing before considering approval of a proposed Social Host Ordinance. A number of township supervisors attending the hearing voiced unanimous opposition to it.

Milford Township Supervisor Fred Juni was among the more vocal ordinance opponents. He said it should include prescription and illegal drugs, then stated the proposed ordinance would turn him into a vigilante.

Prairieville Township Supervisor Tom Hirsch said his township board discussed it and opposed it.

Leavenworth Township Supervisor Richard Trebesch, who farms land adjacent to the Sleepy Eye Lake trail, said keeping underage beer drinkers off the property is challenging.

"People walk the bike path at night, follow a path through farm fields to the lake and drink beer," Trebesch said. "How can I stop that? I can't watch everything constantly. Kids have been going into the country to drink beer forever. Frankly, there's no way to police it."

Trebesch said he might feel better about the ordinance if it did not contain wording that he should have known about underage drinking on his property.

Another township supervisor said he opposed the ordinance because it could cause him to "tattle" on a neighbor and that being on good terms with neighbors is more important in rural areas.

Brown County Chief Deputy Jason Seidl said doing the correct thing is not always the most popular thing. He said the sheriff's department is concerned about saving lives and preventing drinking, driving and accidents.

Brown County Public Health Director Karen Moritz said preventing underage drinking could go far towards preventing related problems including theft, assaults and poor sexual choices.

Brown County Attorney Bob Hinnenthal said the ordinance could be violated at a public park because it's about aiding, knowing about, or people that should have known about underage people drinking or furnishing them alcohol.

Renville County commissioners approved a Social Host Ordinance in February 2011. The ordinance is not without unique challenges to law enforcement.

"It was unique here in that the folks who testified for (SHO) before commissioners included a group of high school students who showed a video supporting it," Renville County Sheriff Scott Hable said.

He said property owners are not liable for underage drinking on their property under state law. Under Renville County's SHO, only property owners who knowingly allow underage drinking on their property are liable.

"If property owners are not around, they are not liable. If the property owner's kid supplied alcohol to underage youth, the kid is liable, even if they are underage," Hable said. "If we go to a underage beer party at someone's home and there are 25 people there, we have to figure out who supplied the alcohol. That can be hard to do."

Nicollet County Sheriff Dave Lange said an SHO was discussed in his office and with Gustavus Adolphus College officials, but the subject has not been in front of the county board.

"It's one of those things that's difficult to enforce for the most part," Lange said.

Sibley County Sheriff Bruce Ponath said the issue has not been discussed in that county.

Data from 62,495 persons aged 12 to 20, published in the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that of current underage alcohol users aged 12 to 20, 53.4 percent drank at someone else's home that last time they used alcohol, and another 30.3 percent drank at their own home.

According to Minnesotans for Safe Driving (MSD), cities with SHO have reduced the number of underage drinking parties and that it's usually 22 or 23-year-olds who host the parties.

According to MSD, the need for SHO grew in recent years (from loopholes) after courts ruled that owners/parents who allow parties in their homes where they know minors will consume alcohol, who don't take alcoholic beverages away from minors, or fail to stop parties, cannot be prosecuted because such actions do not fall within the meaning of providing or furnishing alcohol to minors.

For more information, visit www.mnsafedriving.com/drunk-a-drugged-driving/social-host-ordinances.html

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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