Councilor takes on social host ordinance
Willems plans to bring draft to city in the future
Craig City Councilor Byron Willems said he was “shocked” by how much alcohol was available to his daughter when she graduated from Moffat County High School in May 2008.
He hopes to use his position with the city to do something to curb the access minors have to beer, wine and liquor.
“Alcohol does so much damage to your brain as a young person, it’s terrible,” Willems said. “Anything we can do to prevent that or minimize that, we should be doing that. As a council, that’s our job.”
At the April 14 council meeting, Willems said he will lead an effort to create a social host ordinance that meets the needs of Craig.
The aim would be to allow law enforcement to ticket property owners for allowing minors other than their children to consume alcohol on their property. Such ordinances also can be used to cite people 21 and older for being at a party where there is underage drinking, Willems said.
He plans to partner with Grand Futures Prevention Coalition and local law enforcement in the process.
Willems’ comments came the same night the Steamboat Springs City Council took the first step toward adopting its own social host ordinance. The measure is expected to come up for first reading at the Steamboat council’s next meeting.
Willems’ group plans to examine various ordinances from around the country – including Steamboat’s – to use as examples for what could be passed here.
He likely won’t bring anything to the council soon. It could be several months or a year before the city is asked to vote on anything, Willems said.
Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta and Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz said they are in favor of Craig and/or Moffat County adopting such a law.
They said they have heard the argument that social host ordinances are duplicative, in that they add new laws for an offense already covered by existing state statutes.
The police chief and the sheriff disagree, however.
“The way existing law pretty much functions is we have to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt who actually bought and provided the alcohol,” Vanatta said. “That’s just virtually impossible to do.”
Jantz said he knows firsthand of times when landowners hosted parties for teenagers and would not tell him if they were serving alcohol.
To stay involved, the Sheriff’s Office now checks the license plates of cars parked outside parties and calls the owners at home. Sometimes, that results in waking up a teenager’s parents at home to inform them where their child is at 2 a.m. on a Saturday.
Moffat County has an issue with underage drinking, Jantz said, and a social host ordinance could help overcome that.
“It’s all about helping these kids survive,” he said.
It’s not only about drunk driving, Willems said, but also about fights, deaths from alcohol poisoning and teen pregnancy.
Matt Beckett, Moffat County Grand Futures director, said a 2008 student survey at the high school showed 76 percent of students had consumed alcohol, and 29 percent reported heavy use.
Among freshman girls, 19 percent said they had sexual intercourse, and almost two-thirds of those girls reported they were drunk before the last time they had sex.
Beckett added that the surveys are run through a data analysis to verify accuracy. Among other steps, the test uses several overlapping questions, and any responses that do not remain consistent are thrown out.
Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers and Craig Mayor Don Jones said they want to learn more about the issues and what a social host ordinance could accomplish.
But, as of now, there are too many questions left for them to give or deny support.
Jones said he doesn’t know if such a law would be enforceable because of private property rights. He also wonders if the city should interfere in how parents raise their children.
“If the parents are at home, there ought to be a way to prosecute that, I would think,” he said. Underage drinking “is a problem, but sooner or later, parents have got to take responsibility for their kids.”
Vanatta said he thinks it will be challenging for such an ordinance to pass in Craig.
“There is kind of an underlying attitude that drinking is OK,” he said. “Some people say the problem is no different now than when they were kids 30 years ago. That doesn’t mean you quit trying to fix it.”
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