Shorewood takes aim at underage drinking

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 19, 2012 - 7:12 PM

The city's new ordinance targeting adults who provide a place for underage drinkers to consume alcohol is awaiting final approval by the City Council.

Shorewood city leaders are cracking down on adults who knowingly allow underage drinking in their homes, becoming the first South Lake Minnetonka city to approve a social host ordinance.

Advocates hope the move will spur surrounding cities to follow suit.

The city, which approved a draft ordinance 4-1 on Aug. 13, will be the 84th city in Minnesota to have a social host ordinance if it gets final approval next Monday. The ordinance makes it a misdemeanor for adults who knowingly provide a place for underage drinkers to consume alcohol, closing a loophole in state law that doesn't hold hosts accountable.

"It's another tool to help us deal with the problem of underage drinking," said South Lake Minnetonka Police Chief Bryan Litsey, who pushed Shorewood leaders to pass the ordinance and will now lobby other cities. "We're hoping at some point it becomes state law."

If the other cities in the police department's jurisdiction -- Excelsior, Greenwood and Tonka Bay -- enact the same ordinance, Litsey said it would help not just the police enforce a consistent law but bring more uniformity in the Minnetonka School District, which overlaps areas of the four cities and six others.

"It holds people accountable," he said, and "hopefully it will be a deterrent. Most people in the community don't condone underage drinking."

Social host ordinances have passed in cities like Minnetonka with relatively little controversy. However, three places -- Carver and Winona counties and the city of Greenwood -- have rejected them.

In Shorewood, the social host ordinance, if officially approved Monday, will take effect immediately.

"I think it was a bold step by our council to step up," Mayor Chris Lizee said. "I hope the other leaders in cities consider it."

The ordinance likely wouldn't impact parents as often as young adults. Tonka CARES Coalition project director Imogen Davis said it's usually adults under the age of 25 who host or provide alcohol to underage drinkers. The coalition, which aims to reduce illegal substance use among Minnetonka Public Schools students, advocates for the ordinance in all 10 cities of the school district.

"Shorewood taking this step is hopefully going to create some momentum," Davis said.

A survey of Minnetonka High School students in grades 9-12 this year showed that, of the 30 percent of students who had reported drinking alcohol in the last month, 50 percent got alcohol from friends, and 52 percent got it at a party -- much more than the few who got it from a bar, a store or their parents.

But when police respond to a party where young adults are hosts or have invited underage drinkers when parents are gone, Litsey said there's little they can do to hold the host responsible. The only recourse is to ticket the underage drinkers. From January 2011 to this month, South Lake Minnetonka Police have issued nearly 100 citations for underage drinking, up slightly from past years.

In Shorewood, council member Dick Woodruff was the only opponent of the ordinance, saying the vague law will be difficult to enforce. Two years ago, it was voted down by the council, he said. "Nothing changed."

While he condemns underage drinking, "it's difficult to demonstrate if this law is really needed," he said.

Council Member Laura Hotvet, a parent of two teens, pushed for it.

It's not just about enforcement, she said. "It's a good way for a city, police and school district to band together and send a message they won't tolerate hosting parties providing drinking to minors."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141 Twitter: @kellystrib

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