City ponders plan to punish adults who let kids drink

  • Article by: CHRIS HAVENS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 9, 2009 - 10:56 PM

Adults who have parties where liquor is available and don't stop minors from drinking could be committing a crime under a proposed ordinance.

The city of St. Paul might make it a crime if adults have parties where booze is available and the hosts don't take reasonable steps to prevent minors from getting their hands on it.

The social host ordinance was introduced at a City Council meeting Wednesday.

The council "intends to discourage underage possession and consumption of alcohol, even if done within the confines of a private residence," according to the draft ordinance.

Reasonable steps would include controlling access to liquor at a party or carding people to verify their age.

An adult who hosts or allows a gathering doesn't have to be there to be responsible, under the proposed ordinance, which is sponsored by council member Russ Stark.

Exceptions would include allowing parents to let their children drink in their homes or legally protected religious observances.

The proposal lays out several ways in which evidence that an adult knew about underage drinking might be determined, including promotion of the party on social-network websites, inviting people to "Bring Your Own Bottle," alcohol being present or at least one minor who is drunk.

Violating the ordinance would be a misdemeanor.

The proposal came about because of ongoing concerns about underage drinking and complaints about college parties, Stark said. Hamline University, Macalester College and the University of St. Thomas are all in Stark's ward, and he says he gets frequent complaints.

"This ordinance allows us to tackle both of those issues," he said.

The legal drinking age is 21. Minnesota law makes it a crime to furnish alcohol to minors but doesn't prohibit adults from giving young people a place to drink.

Social host ordinances have been gaining traction in communities around the country. Chaska, Minnetonka and Roseville are among metro-area suburbs that have adopted such laws.

A hearing on the proposed St. Paul ordinance is set for later this month.

2010 maximum levy set

Council members also approved the maximum property tax levy for 2010 at $92.5 million, which is a 6.1 percent increase over 2009. That amount can go down as next year's budget is finalized, but it can't go up.

Property owners have seen their St. Paul levy amounts increase by 9 percent, 15.1 percent and 8 percent in the past three years, respectively.

The council, sitting as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, set that agency's maximum levy, as well. The maximum HRA levy for 2010 is about $3.2 million, a 39.5 percent increase over 2009.

Mayor Chris Coleman's proposed budget for 2010 is $538 million.

In other council news, the idea of making it easier for residents to keep three or fewer chickens seems to not be flying so well. Council members were supposed to vote on the matter Wednesday, but laid it over for another five weeks.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148

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