Members of Hill County Coalition for Rethinking Drinking, which is working to reduce binge drinking and drunken driving, have agreed to focus on telling people about the idea of a social host ordinance as the next step in pushing for such an ordinance.
“I think we probably have to do a better job of educating,” said Tim Maroney, pastoral minister at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church.
The coalition is researching implementing a social host ordinance in Havre. Under such an ordinance, adults who provide a location for underage drinking could be held liable for the underage drinking.
Maroney said after the meeting that the coalition, after it is done preparing for the issue, should ask the City Council to propose such an ordinance.
Hill County Attorney Gina Dahl agreed that if the community supports the idea, the coalition should ask the council to sponsor the ordinance.
“We think it’s an important health risk,” she said.
The topic may be raised in the next Legislature. State law does not allow counties to pass social host ordinances, and proposing legislation to allow that has been discussed.
A social host ordinance did not receive a warm reception at a recent Missoula City Council committee meeting. No action was taken at the Dec. 8 meeting where the members discussed an ordinance proposed to hold responsible the property owners who knowingly hold events where underage drinking occurs.
Several members raised concerns, including about how the ordinance would be applied and how the concepts of “knowingly” and “taking reasonable steps to prevent” would be defined in its enforcement, the Missoulian newspaper reports. One Missoula council member said the proposal was “nanny state-ish,” and that the issue should be dealt with by families and the community, not the government.
The group at Havre’s Wednesday meeting agreed that the issue was poorly presented in Missoula. More preparation and education about those issues would have answered many of the questions, they said.
Maroney said he has been talking to Havre City Council members, and while they seem receptive — some more than others — they have raised concerns. A common concern is enforcement, he said.
Assistant Havre Police Chief Gabe Matosich and Dahl said such an ordinance would not add to the police department’s work.
“If they get a call on a party, they have to go anyway,” he said.
Dahl agreed. The ordinance would give more authority, but wouldn’t add to the calls.
“It shouldn't add anything extra to the work, it just would add an extra tool,” she said.
LuAnn McLain of HELP Committee, the coalition coordinator, said information shows the opposite is true in communities where a social host ordinance is put in place. The number of calls actually goes down, she said.
In Montana, several communities — including Great Falls, Billings and Helena — have enacted social host ordinances.
Ken Halverson, superintendent of North Star Schools in Rudyard, suggested that the coalition invite City Council to send a representative to attend the meetings of the coalition. Other coalition members agreed that having such attendance could help in the education effort.
The group agreed that the next step is in providing information about social host ordinances, including ordinances passed in other communities and possibly a draft specifically for Havre. Other information could include background research on the impacts of social host ordinances and answers to common questions about them.