An issue supported by a local group trying to reduce underage drinking is coming up for a hearing this week in the state House of Representatives.
House Bill 20, sponsored by Rep. Gordon Hendrick, R-Superior, would allow counties to set social host ordinances that could hold adults responsible when underage drinking occurs on their property. A hearing before the House Local Government Committee will be Thursday.
Coalition backs social host laws
The Hill County Coalition for Rethinking Drinking advocates social host ordinances. It is researching and pushing for creation of such an ordinance in Havre. Municipalities can issue social host ordinances under the state law, although county governments cannot yet do so.
The coalition urged people to contact legislators and let them know what they think about the subject.
County may get same audthority
“HB 20 does not propose creating a statewide social host ordinance. It only gives counties the authority to create social host ordinances if they want,” Tim Maroney, member of the Hill County Coalition for Rethinking Drinking, said in a statement released by the coalition. “Right now they don't have that authority.”
James Dahl, Hill County Detention Center supervisor and a member of the coalition, said in the release that the ordinances would not automatically bring about charges.
“Social host ordinances do not apply to landlords or parents who are out of town and do not know that a party is occurring on their property," he said. “To be charged, the adult must know about the party and that underage persons are drinking on their property.
“Social host ordinances do not impact a parent’s ability to let their own kids have a glass of champagne on a special occasion in their own home,” Dahl added. “This is not illegal, and a social host law will not make it illegal. It just prevents other adults from providing a party spot for your kids to drink.”
Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, said she did not want to comment on a specific bill such as HB 20 before she has a chance to review it.
“Generally speaking, it is important to discourage underage alcohol, yet it is also critical to respect parents' rights and responsibility to make the decisions they feel are best for their children,” she added.
Windy Boy promises to study bill
Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, also said he would review the bill more closely before he commented on it, adding that he is strongly against drug and alcohol abuse and he probably would support the bill.
It would be crucial for local residents have input on the issue before local governments take action, he said.
“I feel parents should be held accountable for allowing their children to host parties in the home,” Windy Boy said this morning. “However, I'm also concerned of allowing the laws to be too restrictive in our daily lives. We're becoming too much of a police state, implementing too many laws, criminalizing the citizens of this state.
Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, Rep. Tony Belcourt, D-Box Elder, and Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, did not respond to e-mailed requests for comments by deadline this morning.