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Chaska city council passes law making party hosts liable for underage drinking

  • Article by: Jenna Ross
  • Star Tribune
  • September 30, 2007 - 7:14 PM

Chaska has a new target in its fight against underage drinking: the party's host.

The City Council Monday night unanimously passed a law that makes people criminally liable for allowing underage drinking on their property -- even if they don't provide the alcohol.

It's the first ordinance of its kind in Minnesota.

Chaska is moving ahead with the law because city officials are concerned that Carver County won't. The county has been discussing the same ordinance since July but hasn't taken action on it.

"Frankly, we're tired of waiting," said Chaska Police Chief Scott Knight. "This needs to happen, and it needs to happen now."

When Carver County was first set to discuss the law, County Commissioner Randy Maluchnik guessed that it would pass unanimously within the month.

But at Monday night's council meeting, he expressed concern that it would ever pass. He explained it as "a cultural thing."

In some rural parts of the county, throwing a graduation party where minors drink is considered acceptable, Maluchnik said. Although residents in his district -- which includes Carver, Victoria and Chaska -- have generally supported the ordinance, some other commissioners' residents have not, he said.

At an August board meeting, County Commissioner James Ische said parents had told him that they'd prefer their children drink in their homes, "where they have control over the situation... rather than have them going out on the roads."

Chaska's ordinance, which has the same wording as the one Carver County is considering, does provide exceptions. For example, it "does not apply to conduct solely between an underage person and his or her parents while present in the parent's household."

And it doesn't apply to legally protected religious observances.

Some parents also have been concerned that if they were to take a trip to Florida and their kids threw a party in their absence, they would be held liable, said Council Member Jay Rohe.

The law's language protects them from that, Knight said, as it states that the person must "knowingly" provide the venue. "Of course the parents are not culpable [in that example]."

Right now, the county can charge people for providing alcohol to minors, which only happens in some cases and can be tough to prove, said Janet Barke Cain, assistant county attorney and head of the office's juvenile division.

When it comes to hosting the party, "the law is silent," Knight said. "This is one of those 'Aha!' moments. Of course there is a gap in the law, and of course this would solve it."

Chaska's social host law carries with it possible penalties of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Carver County has been exploring alternative punishments, such as restorative justice programs.

The county has been designing the social host ordinance for more than a year and a half. Earlier this year, Sean P. Humphrey, 19, froze to death in Chaska after leaving a party where he was given alcohol by an adult.

(Read the full version of this article in next week's Star Tribune West: www.startribune.com/west.)

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

Jenna Ross • jross@startribune.com

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