St. Paul social host ordinance seems roundly supported

  • Article by: CHRIS HAVENS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 7, 2009 - 11:33 PM

No one at a public hearing objected to making it a crime to host an event where minors can get or consume alcohol. In fact, only two citizens spoke at all.

Judging from the lack of opposition shown Wednesday evening, it's likely that St. Paul soon will have a law on its books that makes it a crime to host an event where underage people are drinking alcohol.

Only two people spoke during a public hearing on the matter Wednesday. Both were supporters.

The City Council will vote on the social host ordinance Wednesday.

Under the proposed ordinance, it would be illegal for anyone to host an event at a public or private place where alcohol is present and not try to prevent minors from possessing or drinking booze. Violating the ordinance would be a misdemeanor.

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

St. Paul would join about 30 Minnesota cities and counties that have enacted some form of social hosting law.

Responding to complaints

Council Member Russ Stark sponsored the ordinance. He represents the Fourth Ward, in which there are several colleges and universities. He routinely gets complaints about disturbances that stem from underage and excessive drinking.

Sgt. Paul Schnell has worked in college neighborhoods and said trying to decrease the effects of underage and excessive drinking by focusing solely on minors isn't an effective strategy because of the time and resources needed.

Getting people to realize they could be held liable for having a party where minors are drinking is a deterrent and, he said, should lead to fewer young adults traipsing through neighborhoods and causing disturbances.

During the hearing, Jean Mulvey, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Minnesota, said it's important to focus on the how and where minors get or consume alcohol.

John Hershey, neighborhood liaison for the University of St. Thomas, said his employer supports the ordinance.

In addition to fighting underage drinking, the proposed ordinance will help save tax dollars by reducing repeated disturbance calls to police, reducing emergency medical responses to parties, injuries and violence, and property damage, according to a memo written by assistant city attorney Yamy Vang.

In 2008, the city attorney's office handled 425 cases of underage consumption. The previous year's number was 453.

The ordinance does not apply to landlords, mortgagees, colleges and universities, or hotel or motel owners who don't actually participate in hosting an event. Other exceptions would include allowing parents to let their children drink in their homes or at legally protected religious observances.

If the council approves the ordinance next week, it would take effect a month later.

In other action, an ordinance making it legal for pedestrians and bicyclists to use Ayd Mill Road was introduced.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148

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